Google’s search engine and some Android apps may make a re-entry into China after a gap of eight years.
While the company made an exit in 2010, expressing its inability to cope with the kind of restrictions and censorship imposed in China, Google has now accepted all those conditions and it would be service compliant with the country’s relevant policies.
If the reports and leaked documents on the matter are to be trusted, discussions have already been held with senior government officials and Google, represented by its CEO Sundar Pichai, and some of the products have been demonstrated to them. If the government approvals come through, China’s public may start using the Google search engine in the next few months.
Internet Censorship & Restrictions in China
The Chinese government and the Communist Party, which virtually controls every aspect of the country’s politics and administration, does not allow its citizens to be exposed to a number of things on the internet or any other media for that matter.
The news channels are either owned and operated by the government or the ruling party or if they are run by any private enterprise, they have to strictly adhere to these conditions stipulated by the Chinese government. Failure to comply will result in the channel being shut down.
Similarly, on the internet, on a search engine, for example, any search for content related to dissidents or anticommunism shall not be permitted.
Even a search for the Tiananmen Square massacre cannot be done on China’s search engines. The Chinese authorities have a way to monitor and block any such attempt.
These censorship efforts are collectively nicknamed the Great Firewall, a take on the Great Wall of China. And once detected, the action is swift. There are no legal remedies or courts that can help in resolving the issues. It is a one-way street.
Google Making the Necessary Changes
It is learnt that Google has assembled a team of technical hands to work on their main search engine. The algorithms will be rewritten to block those websites or URLs which are in the list of prohibited sites. If anyone types these words, the search engine will throw up a “no results” response.
If there are only a few websites removed from the search results, there may even be a statement appearing along with the rest of the results that “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.” This will let the customers know the status and the censorship authorities would be satisfied too.
And, it is not just the webpages or URL links, other platforms that Google hosts on its search engine—like images or photos or any other information that the Chinese government does not want its public to be exposed to—will be removed from Google when the Chinese version in launched.
One may find Wikipedia subpages missing in the search results. Other global public information sites like BBC News, which is again one of the banned sites in China, will not be seen.
Project Codenamed “Dragonfly”
The Intercept report that has revealed these plans by Google for re-entry into China mentions that the whole project is being worked on confidentially within Google and they have an internal code name “Dragonfly” for this project. Only a few executives have been taken into confidence and others are not to be informed of the plans.
There are, however, concerns being raised if Google is going out of its way to compromise freedom of information and whether it is ethical.
These people are worried that if China has its way, why should it stop other countries with similar censorship agendas from demanding similar changes in the search engine’s functionality and contents? Where will it end?
Timing a Little Odd, Too
What is more intriguing for some observers is that, currently, there is a kind of tussle going on between the U.S. and China over trade-related issues, and for an American company to be busy cozying up to the Chinese regime sounds odd. These people point out how some of the U.S.’s proud media sites and services like YouTube, The New York Times and popular social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Pinterest are all banned in China.
There is no official response from Google. The company says it has been working in China on many other fields and sees nothing new being attempted.