Google Planning Censored Version of Search Engine in China That Will Block Sensitive Terms

By Zack Stieber

Google is planning a censored version of its search engine for China that will block some websites and search terms, according to a report by The Intercept.

The outlet cited internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans.

The project is code-named “Dragonfly” and has been underway since the spring of 2017, with an acceleration following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, it added.

Teams of programmers and engineers at Google have been hard at work at the project, a custom Android application, which could launch publicly in the next six to nine months, according to the report. It’s unclear if the company will produce a desktop version. Only a few hundred people within Google are aware of the project.

Before launching, it will need approval from Chinese officials.

The Chinese Communist Party rules China and is infamous for its widespread crackdown on freedom of speech and religion, including on the Internet. Google’s main search engine is blocked in China, as is its video platform YouTube.

According to internal documents, a number of search terms wouldn’t turn up any results. The terms include queries related to human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protests.

As a specific example, the Chinese government blocks websites that contain information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, as well as references to “anticommunism” and “dissidents.”

The documents, marked “Google confidential,” state that Google’s Chinese search engine will automatically identify and filter out websites that are already blocked by the Chinese government.

While some search terms won’t turn up any results, others will only filter out certain results.

Searches that have results removed will carry a disclaimer that states, “Some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.”

Sources within Google told the Intercept that there are major ethical concerns with the planned search engine, and noted they’d been barred from speaking publicly about it.

“I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest,” the source said, adding that they feared “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Google operated a censored version of its search engine in China between 2006 and 2010 but pulled out, citing Chinese government efforts to hack Google computer systems and limit free speech.

In a 2010 Epoch Times interview, a silicon valley expert said: “China’s censorship directly shakes the foundation of Google’s search technology.” The Chinese regime reportedly threated Google into blocking information about Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation practice.

The persecution of Falun Gong began on July 20, 1999, when then head of the Chinese communist regime, Jiang Zemin, gave the order. For 19 years, millions of practitioners have suffered from illegal abduction, imprisonment, torture, and even became victims of organ harvesting.

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On July 30, 1999, the dictator Jiang Zemin launched a campaign to eradicate the spiritual practice of Falun Gong.