Google Secretly Planning to Launch a Censored Search Engine in China

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August 01, 2018

After an eight-year-long absence from the most populated country in the world, Google search is going to dramatically make a comeback in China.

Google is reportedly planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that is going to blacklist certain websites and search terms to comply with Chinese government’s attempts to censor the Internet, a whistleblower revealed.

According to leaked documents obtained by The Intercept, CEO Sundar Pichai met with a Chinese government official in December 2017 to re-enter the world’s largest market for internet users.

Project Dragonfly — Censored Google Search Engine

Since spring last year Google engineers have been secretly working on a project, dubbed “Dragonfly,” which currently includes two Android mobile apps named—Maotai and Longfei—one of which will get launched by the end of this year after Chinese officials approve it.

The censored version of Google search engine in the form of a mobile app reportedly aims to “blacklist sensitive queries” and filter out all websites (news, human rights, democracy, religion) blocked by the Chinese government, including Wikipedia, BBC News, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Besides this, Google will also blacklist words like human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protests in Chinese of its search engine app.

“Documents seen by The Intercept, marked ‘Google confidential,’ say that Google’s Chinese search app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall,” Intercept’s journalist Ryan Gallagher said.

The censorship will also be embedded in Google’s image search, spell check, and suggested search features, which eventually means the search engine will not display Chinese users potentially “sensitive” terms or images banned by their government.

Some 200 Google employees are working on the Dragonfly project, one of them spoke to the publication because he/she was “against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.”

 

“The source said that they had moral and ethical concerns about Google’s role in the censorship, which is being planned by a handful of top executives and managers at the company with no public scrutiny,” Ryan said.

The whistleblower also expressed concern that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations,” as well and it will be “a big disaster for the information age.”

The news about Google’s new move comes less than a month after Apple’s Chinese data center partner transferred iCloud data, belonging to 130 million Chinese users, to a cloud storage service managed by a state-owned mobile telecom provider.

To comply with Chinese law and work in the mainland China, Apple moved the encryption keys and data of its Chinese iCloud users from its US servers to local servers on Chinese soil earlier this year, despite concerns from human rights activists.

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Taiwan asks Google to blur images from disputed island

Taiwan has asked Google to blur satellite images of what appear to be new military installations on a disputed island in the South China Sea.

Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, is part of the Spratly Island chain, embroiled in increasingly tense South China Sea territorial disputes.

Although it is controlled by Taiwan, the island is also claimed by mainland China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Four new structures have appeared since Google Earth’s last satellite images.

The images showed four three-pronged structures in a semi-circle next to an upgraded airstrip and near a sizeable new port.

What is the South China Sea dispute?

Rival countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years.

Its islets and waters are claimed in part or in whole by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols, while the US, which has also sailed through the disputed waters, says it opposes restrictions on freedom of navigation and unlawful sovereignty claims by all sides.

The frictions have sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with possible global consequences.

Why is the South China Sea contentious?

Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said on Wednesday that “under the pre-condition of protecting military secrets and security, we have requested Google blur images of important military facilities”.

The country’s Coast Guard Administration also confirmed to the BBC that it was in talks with Google, which they said may not have been aware it was a military zone.

The Coast Guard said it believed other countries would have similar issues with images of such restricted zones.

Google has said that it is reviewing the request.

“We take security concerns very seriously, and are always willing to discuss them with public agencies and officials,” Google spokesman Taj Meadows told the BBC.

It has not blurred imagery in response to similar requests in the past. Much of this imagery comes from third party providers, which means that it is likely to be available through a number of other commercial routes.

The increasing militarisation of the South China Sea, where China is rapidly building islands to buttress its territorial claims has stoked tension in the region.

An international tribunal recently ruled against China’s claims, backing a case brought by the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled Taiping was classified as a “rock” rather than an “island” and therefore not entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusion zone.The verdict was rejected by both Beijing and Taipei.

 

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