Google could be making serious concessions to the Chinese government to censor the Internet, a new report claims.
The Alphabet-owned company is working on a censored version of its search engine that would be available only in China, The Intercept is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of the plans. The Google program is called Dragonfly and would blacklist search terms and websites that promote freedom, democracy, and other topics that could undermine the government’s power, the report says.
Google’s search has been banned in mainland China for years due to the company not conforming to the government’s regulations on what should and should not be censored on the Internet. Google Search is, however, available in Hong Kong, where topics such as democracy and peaceful protest are accessible and often accessed by users.
China, one of the most censored countries in the world, operates what’s been called the Great Firewall of China. In addition to Google Search, China blocks social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter, as well as video-sharing sites like Google-owned YouTube. The government argues those services represent a public harm.
Google started working on a censored search engine in spring of 2017, but expanded those efforts in December after the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai met with the Chinese government, according to The Intercept’s sources. The company has now allegedly built an Android app that Google has demonstrated to the Chinese government and could launch in 2019.
For privacy advocates and those who are concerned with the state of censorship in China, Google’s reported move would be most unwelcome. It would also represent a major setback in Google’s position as a company that supports digital rights.
In a statement, Amnesty International said that if The Intercept report is accurate, Google’s move would represent a “dark day for Internet freedom.”
“It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘Do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course,” Amnesty International’s China Researcher Patrick Poon said in a statement. “For the world’s biggest search engine to adopt such extreme measures would be a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom. In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.”
For its part, Google hasn’t commented on the report and did not respond to a Fortune request for comment. If the report is accurate, Google might have some serious explaining to do to organizations like Amnesty International and anyone else who supports digital rights and freedom.