Google Reportedly Working on Censored Search for China
It looks as though Google's desire to access the hundreds of millions of internet users in China has won and it is willing to accept government censorship to operate there. How is Google going to explain its thinking if (when?) it does launch?
The Great Firewall has meant that Google Search isn't accessible from within China. In order for it to function there, Google would have to agree to adopt the Chinese government's censorship rules and the company has refused to do that for many years. However, it looks as though Google is now willing to accept censorship in return for access.
As The Intercept reports, a small team within Google have been working on a project called Dragonfly since the spring of 2017. It is a version of Google Search which complies with the censorship rules the Chinese government imposes on internet services, meaning any and all terms the government deems unfit for public consumption will be removed from search results. Specific queries that break the rules will also be blocked.
In order to deliver this censored version of its search service, Google is working on a custom Android app which has had different internal names including Maotai and Longfei. The search service will initially be accessible exclusively through the Android app. There are currently no plans to offer Google search on the desktop in China, but if the Android app gets approved it seems like an inevitable next step.
The Intercept also reports that Google CEO Sundar Pichai met with a senior Chinese government official in December last year and the government has been shown the service and Android app working. Apparently both already meet with the government's expectations for control of information flow on the internet within China.
Since Pichai's meeting, development of Dragonfly accelerated. It is now expected that Google will launch in China within the next nine months if the Chinese government allows it.
Censorship is set to continue indefinitely within China and seems to be getting more pervasive every year. At the same time, there are over 750 million internet users there, which Google would love to gain access to. If Dragonfly ends up launching, it's clear that Google's desire has overtaken its stance against censorship and that's going to cause a lot of negative press.
If (when?) Dragonfly does launch, expect Google to tell us why it took the decision to do so, but don't expect any compromises to have been made by China. If Google launches a search service in China, it's on the government's terms.