Google's plan comes during a time that China increased its scrutiny into dealings that involve tech firms from the USA including Apple, Qualcomm and Facebook amidst the increased trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Multiple media sources are reporting that Google is working on a search service for the Chinese market, specifically modified to meet the censorship demands of the country's governing Communist Party.
It's a reversal of its stance from eight years ago, when Google left China in protest of the country's censorship. In order for it to function there, Google would have to agree to adopt the Chinese government's censorship rules and the company has refused to do that for many years.
A Google spokeswoman said that the company would not speculate on future plans, but that it did already have a notable presence in China. Google was also taking heat from the U.S. Congress for complying with the Chinese government's policies. Last year, Google unveiled plans to open a research centre in China focused on artificial intelligence.
Having a native search app for those phones that Chinese users can access would represent a massive boon for the tech giant.
"We reminded users in China every single day that they are looking at filtered results", said Tian, who worked at Google when the search engine launched. It said the project began to progress more quickly following a December meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a senior Chinese government official.
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The final version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending Chinese official's approval. The company has also demonstrated two versions of the search engine to the Chinese government.
At the moment, references to The Intercept's article and the development of the search engine are being promptly expunged from Weibo, another fact that does not appear to bode well for Google's chances.
Most popular internet-based applications and websites are banned in China. 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 almost 80 per cent of all smartphones in the country. Many are concerned the company would block a long list of foreign websites including Facebook, Twitter and various western news sites, as well as Chinese search queries including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and information about the Chinese leadership.
China has one of the strictest censorship regimes in the world, according to HRW. "It will set a awful precedent for many other companies who are still trying to do business in China while maintaining the principles of not succumbing to China's censorship. They won't help Department of Defense keep us safe but they will help China suppress the truth?"
"Google said it wouldn't bow to Beijing's censorship, it should stick to its word, especially now that it's canceled its partnership with our military", Cotton said, referencing the company's decision in June not to renew an A.I. contract with the Pentagon.
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