Leaked Documents Show Google is Making a Censored Search Engine for China

The Chinese version of Google will censor websites like the BBC and Wikipedia.

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Aug 1 2018, 1:23pm

Google is planning on launching a censored version of its search engine in China in the next six to nine months, recently leaked documents reveal. This marks an about face on the company’s policy regarding Chinese censorship, which caused Google to shut down its search service in the country in 2010.

According to confidential internal documents obtained by The Intercept, Google’s Chinese search engine—code-named Dragonfly—has been in development since last spring. The documents revealed that work on Dragonfly began to speed up last December following a meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and an unnamed “top Chinese official.”

The documents also show that Google engineers and programmers have already created two different versions of a custom Chinese Android app called Maotai and Longfei. According to the leaked internal documents, Google’s Chinese search engine will automatically filter websites that don’t comply with China’s censorship standards and a disclaimer at the top of the page will inform users that “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.”

Among the websites that will be censored or blocked entirely are the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC), Wikipedia, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, according to the Intercept.

According to a Google employee who worked on Dragonfly and talked to the Intercept, information about the project was restricted to a “few hundred” employees.

“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 told the Intercept. “What is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Google first began operations in China in 2006. Its Chinese search engine was tailored to the country’s strict censorship laws, which prohibits searches for anything considered remotely anti-communist, such as George Orwell and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, as well as queries related to sex and international news. Originally, Google had justified its censored search engine by saying it was better than nothing.

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But while investigating a Chinese cyberattack that had targeted Google and dozens of other companies in 2010, the search giant also discovered that the Gmail accounts of several Chinese human rights activists had been compromised during the attack. So Google shuttered its Chinese operations and left the country indefinitely.

The problem, however, is that China is a goldmine for internet companies. The country has twice as many people online as America has citizens and apparently the temptation may be too much to resist for Google, a company that once defined itself by the mantra “Don’t be evil.” Over the past few months, the company began offering a number of various services in the country, including an artificial intelligence research center in Beijing and a “guess the sketch” game on WeChat, the most popular Chinese messaging platform.

When Motherboard reached out to Google for comment about its Chinese search engine, a spokesperson said the company won't "comment on speculation about future plans."