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Google devel­op­ing cen­sor-friend­ly search engine for Chi­na

Google is craft­ing a search engine that would meet China’s dra­con­ian cen­sor­ship rules, a com­pa­ny employ­ee told AFP on Thurs­day, in a move decried by human rights activists.

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.

The search project — which works like a fil­ter that sorts out cer­tain top­ics — can be test­ed with­in the company’s inter­nal net­works, the source said.

The news has caused anx­i­ety with­in the com­pa­ny since it first emerged in US media reports on Wednes­day, the employ­ee said.

The tech giant had already come under fire this year from thou­sands of employ­ees who signed a peti­tion against a $10-mil­lion con­tract with the US mil­i­tary, which was not renewed.

There’s a lot of angst inter­nal­ly. Some peo­ple are very mad we’re doing it,” the source said.

A Google spokesman declined to con­firm or deny the exis­tence of the project.

We pro­vide a num­ber of mobile apps in Chi­na, such as Google Trans­late and Files Go, help Chi­nese devel­op­ers, and have made sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments in Chi­nese com­pa­nies like JD.com,” spokesman Taj Mead­ows told AFP.

But we don’t com­ment on spec­u­la­tion about future plans.”

– Rights, democ­ra­cy fil­tered out –
News web­site The Inter­cept first report­ed the sto­ry, say­ing the search app was being tai­lored for the Google-backed Android oper­at­ing sys­tem for mobile devices.

Terms about human rights, democ­ra­cy, reli­gion and peace­ful protests would be black­list­ed, accord­ing to The Inter­cept. The app will auto­mat­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy and fil­ter web­sites blocked by China’s Great Fire­wall, the news out­let said.

The New York Times, cit­ing two peo­ple with knowl­edge of the plans, said that while the com­pa­ny has demon­strat­ed the ser­vice to Chi­nese gov­ern­ment offi­cials, the exis­tence of the project did not mean that Google’s return to Chi­na was immi­nent.

Cit­ing “rel­e­vant author­i­ties”, the state-owned Chi­na Secu­ri­ties Dai­ly said reports sug­gest­ing that Google was return­ing to the Chi­nese mar­ket “do not con­form to real­i­ty”.

Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al urged Google to “change course”.

It will be a dark day for inter­net free­dom if Google has acqui­esced to China’s extreme cen­sor­ship rules to gain mar­ket access,” Patrick Poon, a Chi­na researcher for Amnesty, said in a state­ment.

In putting prof­its before human rights, Google would be set­ting a chill­ing prece­dent and hand­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment a vic­to­ry.”

US inter­net titans have long strug­gled with doing busi­ness in Chi­na, home of a “Great Fire­wall” that blocks polit­i­cal­ly sen­si­tive con­tent, such as the 1989 Tianan­men mas­sacre.

Twit­ter, Face­book, YouTube and The New York Times web­site are blocked in Chi­na, but Microsoft’s Bing search engine oper­ates in Chi­na.

In ear­ly 2010, Google shut down its search engine in main­land Chi­na after rows over cen­sor­ship and hack­ing.

Google had cried foul over what it said were cyber attacks aimed at its source code and the Gmail accounts of Chi­nese human rights activists.

But the com­pa­ny still employs 700 peo­ple in three offices in Chi­na work­ing on oth­er projects.

In Decem­ber, Google announced it would open a new arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence research cen­tre in Bei­jing. Ear­li­er last year, Chi­nese inter­net reg­u­la­tors autho­rised the Google Trans­late app for smart­phones.

The search engine project comes amid a US-Chi­na trade war, with both sides impos­ing tit-for-tat tar­iffs and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump accus­ing Bei­jing of steal­ing US tech­no­log­i­cal know-how.

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