Google had a very public fallout with the Chinese government a few years ago when they refused to censor searches in the country. The relations between the tech giant and the Chinese government never really got better, and most Google services are still barred in China. Even the Play Store isn’t spared and Android phones intended for the Chinese market ship without any Google Apps (or GApps) preloaded. The two parties have then attempted to rebuild bridges as the Chinese government is interested in Google’s machine learning and AI technology. Today, a report by The intercept states that Google is planning to re-launch its search engine in China.
Dubbed as Project Dragonfly, it has been in the works since spring of last year. It gained momentum after a meeting between Sundar Pichai, and top Chinese government officials took place in December 2017. Two different versions of the app called “Maotai” and “Longfei” have been developed and is pending approval from government officials. The app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall and will notify users that some sites have been removed due to statutory requirements. It is unclear whether Google will launch a desktop version of its China search platform. For now, the company is focused on initially rolling out the Android app, which a large portion of China’s population will be able to access, as Android devices make up for nearly 80 per cent of all smartphones in the country.
Has Google become the very thing they once opposed?
The main reason Google took its business out of China was that they believed in free speech and freedom of expression. The Chinese government is well known for blocking a plethora of content ranging from any material that is critical of Communism, any references to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, pornography and even George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’. 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. Google’s Chinese search app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall.
Only about a hundred odd employees within Google know about the existence of Project Dragonfly. The Intercept sourced the information from an anonymous source within Google who also voiced their concern about the ethical and moral implications of the project. Once upon a time, Google was heralded as the torchbearer of free speech. By supporting initiatives such as Project Dragonfly, it is on the path to becoming the very oppressors they vehemently opposed. Lastly, Google bowning down to the Chinese government is a huge win for the latter as it sets a precedent for smaller companies not to challenge censorship in China.
Just how slippery is the slope?
It is easy to dismiss any argument about Project Dragonfly by invoking the slippery slope fallacy card, but in this case, the consequences could be much worse than imagined. What is to stop Google from collaborating with other oppressive regimes to set up a similar system of censorship in other nations? There are a lot of countries that would gladly pay a pretty penny to censor the internet in their region. It’s still early to put your tinfoil hats on, but the future looks grim if such collaborations between governments and corporations continue.
Source: The Intercept