Following in the footsteps of fellow tech giants such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Google now has ambitious plans to help the Chinese government in its draconian censorship efforts, the Intercept has reported this week.
The company hopes “to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest,” according to documents obtained by the publication and reportedly marked “Google confidential” that relate to a project “code-named Dragonfly,” according to the news outlet. Before this week’s report, only a few hundred of the corporation’s tens of thousands of employees were apparently aware of the plans.
“Previously, between 2006 and 2010, Google had maintained a censored version of its search engine in China,” the Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher reports. “At the time, the company faced severe criticism in the U.S. over its compliance with the Chinese government’s policies.”
Documentation of the Dragonfly project was provided to the outlet by an anonymous source, likely a Google employee, who was apparently motivated by concern over the lack of transparency surrounding the deal between one of the world’s most powerful tech companies and a repressive government such as China’s. The Chinese government, of course, is not the only one with which Google has made shadowy arrangements in the past.
“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 of the Dragonfly documentation reportedly said, adding that they feared “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
Google did not respond to Gallagher’s requests for comment, although a Google spokesperson reportedly stressed the PR point to Ars Technica “that Google already offers a number of other mobile apps on the Chinese mainland.” The Guardian, however, points out that “the largest of its services – search, email, and the Play app store – are all unavailable in the country.”
Indeed, many other outlets were quick to pick up the Intercept‘s report, though some spun it in slightly different directions.
Giving Google the full benefit of the doubt, for example, the New York Times notes that “the existence of the project does not mean that Google’s return to China is imminent (…). Google often builds and tests different services that never become publicly available.”
While it is far from clear that a publication that has become as much of a running joke as the Times has in recent years would do so under other circumstances that didn’t involve its own naked self interest, however, the newspaper also notes that “Google’s work on a censored search engine for China has already caused an outcry among human rights activists. Many are concerned that the company would block a long list of foreign websites including Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times, as well as Chinese search queries including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and information about the Chinese leadership.”
CNN, meanwhile, reports that “critics complained that Google was breaching its own company motto: ‘Don’t Be Evil.'” At the same time, the news organization notes that Google actually abandoned that slogan three years ago, opting instead for the more non-committal “Do The Right Thing.”
Google may be unable to live up to its old promise to not be evil, or to it’s newer one to do the right thing, but if there’s one thing the massive tech company is capable of, it is creating and selling products that ideally would not exist to people and governments who ideally would not have access to them, and making obscene amounts of money in the process.