Google planning China search app, ending long boycott

Google may be changing its tune when it comes to the largest single market for internet users. The technology giant is reportedly readying to relaunch its search engine in China, and unlike the one it closed in 2010, this one will conform to content demands by the Beijing government.

Google withdrew its search engine from China eight years ago due to censorship and hacking but it is now working on a project for the country codenamed "Dragonfly", the employee said on condition of anonymity.

Arriving under codename Dragonfly, Google is believed to be working on a search engine specifically for China that will be heavily censored. Google had, up to that point, been self-censoring search results in China but made a decision to discontinue the practice after the hacking incident.

NGOs have criticised Google's reported plan to develop a censored version of its search engine in China, calling it an attack on internet freedom. Search results will not include links to sites focusing on democracy, religion, human rights, or protests in addition to an array of other forbidden topics.

The plan, which was criticized by human rights advocates, comes as China has stepped up scrutiny of business dealings involving United States tech firms including Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Qualcomm Inc amid intensifying trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.

But operating in China has been a complex struggle for many US -based businesses. China subsequently blocked Google's services on the mainland. It even censors social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as news organisations such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The company chose to quicken the development of a censored search service after Mr Pichai met with top government official Wang Huning in December 2017, the Intercept reported.

Google responded to the report in a statement to The Verge saying, "we don't comment on speculation about future plans".

The new app, which has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government and is pending approval, was designed in California, with the help from other worldwide Google teams, the report notes.

Human rights activists denounced Google's possible reversal.

"The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government-it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more".

Currently, Google's search service can not be accessed in China, meaning that the company is missing out on quite a large ad market, something which this new project likely hopes to fix. Google has a complicated history in China and its search services haven't been widely available in the country since 2010, when it refused to censor search results and moved its Chinese operations to Hong Kong. Following the meeting, Google announced an AI research center in Beijing and later released a file management app and sketch game for China's growing internet-using population.

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