Google’s Plans to Create Censor-Friendly Products for China Are Even Bigger Than We Thought
Google isn’t just reported to be working on a censored search engine for the Chinese market—according to a new article from The Information, it’s also developing a censored news aggregation app for China. And some Google (GOOGL) employees are reportedly not wild about this new push.
Google’s search and news services have been unavailable in China for around eight years, because of the company’s refusal to bow to the Communist Party’s censorship demands. Now, it appears the fight is over, and Google is giving in with a program codenamed Dragonfly, which includes the two reported apps.
According to The Information, the news aggregation app would use AI and algorithms to select censor-friendly stories for its users. However, as TechCrunch points out, similar apps in China, such as Toutiao—which Google is apparently trying to clone here—have at times fallen foul of the country’s censors, for promoting “pornographic and vulgar content.”
There’s also apparently an added hitch in the form of the U.S.-China trade dispute, which has created difficulty for Google in meeting with the Chinese internet censors (and which has similarly stymied Facebook’s attempt to open an “innovation hub” in the country.)
Google’s newfound willingness to hold its tongue for the Chinese market points to the difference between the ethos of Sundar Pichai, the company’s current CEO, and that of its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who pulled out of China in 2010 because they didn’t want to accede to censorship demands (and who are now the CEO and president of Google parent Alphabet).
And according to a new Bloomberg piece, a lot of Google’s employees are not at all pleased. Unidentified workers told the publication that the Dragonfly search app was a “censorship engine,” and comparable to the company’s now-abandoned Project Maven deal with the Pentagon—Maven let the military use Google’s AI technology to analyse drone footage, and some employees resigned in protest, warning that the arrangement could help mark people for death.
Per the Bloomberg report, one Google employee transferred to a different role at the company due to ethical concerns over Dragonfly. However, other workers voiced support for the program, arguing that staying out of China doesn’t “bring any positive change.”
Google said in response to a request for comment that it doesn’t “comment on speculation about future plans.”