Google plans censored return to China search market, reports say

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Between 2006 and 2010, Google actually ran a censored version of its search engine in China.

Bloomberg took the most comprehensive temperature test of the controversy that the news has generated among Googlers (paywall). Facing heat from activists and even the USA government, Google eventually ended the product. Other employees expressed similar frustration to Bloomberg News, but asked not to be identified. Sources indicate that some Google employees have also claimed that the escalating trade war between the US and China means that approval for the finalization of this project won't necessarily be granted. Work ramped up after Google CEO Sundar Pichai traveled to China to meet with Wang Huning, a top official in China's ruling party.

"For the world's biggest search engine to adopt such extreme measures would be a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom". Don't be evil. The corporate profits aren't worth it.

Chinese state media quickly refuted claims, saying that reports of Google's return to China weren't true. "The liberals of this world obviously will recoil at the idea".

Unfortunately, the Intercept is reporting on some internal documents that suggest Google is moving back in the other direction, and testing a censored version of its search engine for China. On the upside, Google will display a disclaimer that says "some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements".

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The news app is expected to release on app stores in Chine before the Dragonfly search service and associated app launch.

Why it's important: Despite all the fanfares to become an artificial intelligence company, Baidu's revenues still heavily depend on online advertisements, which seems to be threatened by Google's possible return. Established by the country's communist rulers in 1998, Golden Shield is an all-encompassing censorship regime that prohibits Chinese citizens in mainland China, not including Hong Kong and Macau, from reading information that the government doesn't want them to. Shares in Baidu, which reported better-than-expected results a day earlier, slumped as much as 8 percent on Wednesday. The internet giant had recently made an investment of $550 million in JD.com, an e-commerce company based in Beijing.

The Intercept reports Google's new app could launch within six to nine months, though The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported separately, citing anonymous sources, that the product is only being tested and may never be deployed.

Cédric Alviani from Reporters Without Borders told HKFP: "China has been lobbying for years to promote the idea of "national sovereignty" over the internet, which is a pretext for making it a tool of censorship and surveillance". That means Google can't point people to potentially "sensitive" terms or photographs banned by the government.

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