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Google under heavy fire after leak reveals 'censorship engine' for China

An internal document leaked to the Intercept revealed the tech giant has bowed to the Chinese Communist Party to develop a new fully censored, party-approved 'Dragonfly' web service

(Image from Pixabay user Simon, modified)

(Image from Pixabay user Simon, modified)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Tech giant Google, and its managing company Alphabet Inc. came under quick fire after a report on Friday Aug. 3 revealed that Google is preparing to launch a search engine and news service in China that would conform with Beijing’s censorship regulations.

Within a single day of the news that Google would bow to China for the sake of profit and market reach, company employees, U.S. Senators, and netizens across the globe were quick to repudiate the plans by the tech company.

The program being developed is reportedly called “Dragonfly” and represents an about face on Google’s 2010 decision to abandon the Chinese market back when the company’s slogan was still “Don’t Be Evil.”

The Intercept reports that internal documents outlining the plan were leaked on Wednesday, Aug. 1, and after widespread reporting on the “Dragonfly” plans, Google has been scrambling to keep any more info from reaching the public.

However, Google has confirmed the existence of the program, what one company source referred to as a “censorship engine.” According to the Intercept report, web searches and websites related to “human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest” will be automatically censored for users.

Google under heavy fire after leak reveals 'censorship engine' for China
Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Associated Press Image)

There are reportedly two different prototypes that have already been developed, which are only awaiting approval from the Chinese government and may be rolled out in China in the next “six to nine months.” Google is reportedly ready to launch the app “at short notice.”

The web service will reportedly work directly in step with the existing apparatus that the Communist government uses to monitor web traffic within the “Great Firewall.” From the Intercept:

"The app Google is building for China will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable.

The search app will also “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, the documents state. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google’s image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists, meaning that they will not recommend people information or photographs the government has banned."

The project began development in Spring of 2017, and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly established some kind of agreement with the CCP in December 2017, when he met with Politburo standing committee member Wang Huning (王滬寧), known as “China’s Kissinger” and the “think tank of Zhongnanhai,” who is widely considered to be the master strategist directing the current Chinese leadership.

Google under heavy fire after leak reveals 'censorship engine' for China
Wang Huning (CNA Image)

Now that the news has been released to the public however, Google’s leadership is coming under fire from almost every quarter.

A anonymous source at Google told the Intercept “There’s been total radio silence from leadership, which is making a lot of people upset and scared. … Our internal meme site and Google Plus are full of talk, and people are angry.”

A spokesman for the New York based NGO Human Rights in China was quoted as saying:

“If Google wants to be a credible global technology leader and demonstrate its commitment to core values and responsible corporate citizenship, it has to do better than kneeling before an authoritarian party-state. In the long run, Google will lose more than its own principled employees who refuse to be complicit.”

Elodie Vialle, the head of the journalism and technology desk at Reporters Without Borders was quoted as saying:

“RSF calls on Google to reject Beijing’s demands outright. If confirmed, this project would provide Beijing with an additional way to pressure and blackmail Google, and would help to normalize China’s repressive model by legitimizing its draconian demands.”

A group of U.S. lawmakers also acted with surprising haste to condemn the news. A bipartisan group of Senators led by Marco Rubio (R) released a letter on Aug. 3, almost immediately after the Intercept’s report, saying that the Dragonfly program would make Google “complicit in human rights abuses.”

The letter was cosigned by Senators Mark Warner (D), Tom Cotton (R), Ron Wyden (D), Cory Gardner (R), and Robert Menendez (D) requested that Google reply to a series of questions on the matter, under the observation:

“It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google—the biggest search engine in the world—to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values.”