Google is developing a censored version of their search engine for China, according to documents obtained by The Intercept. The internet search giant has been working in secret to develop a search app that is compliant with China’s repressive censorship laws since spring of 2017. But this should come as no surprise; Google has never been against China’s censorious culture.
From its inception until 2010, Google held no objection to complying with Chinese censorship laws. It was not until pressure from the US Congress and the American people became too great to ignore, that they chose to pull its search services out of China. But the Chinese market is too big to ignore.
Google has seriously compromised its ‘don’t be evil’ policy. Indeed, it has become evil’s accomplice.Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., 2006
The censorship-compatible search engine project, code-named ‘Dragonfly,’ has been developed by teams of engineers in Mountain View, CA, and beta versions of the Android app have already been presented to the Chinese Government. The final version could be ready as early as the beginning of next year, according to the leaked documents.
A Very Chinese Search Engine
The Communist Party of China is well known for its suppression and censorship of anything on the internet pertaining to political opposition, free speech, sex, news reports from other countries, and academic studies. Historical events such as the Great Famine and the Tienanmen Square Massacre are strictly prohibited. Even Winnie the Pooh is blocked, due to dissenters comparing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appearance to the character.
And now, Google will be developing technologies to accomplish all this and more for China. The Android app will automatically filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall, and when a user searches for banned materials, Google will be keeping record of the offending search. The user will be presented with a sanitized message in the place of the results, stating, “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.”
Furthermore, the search engine will also blacklist especially “sensitive” queries, so no results can be shown when specific words or phrases are used. This blacklisting would apply to all the services provided by Google Search, including images, news, auto-completion and spell-checking. In the words of Rep. Chris Smith, “Google has seriously compromised its ‘don’t be evil’ policy. Indeed, it has become evil’s accomplice.”
Possible Human Rights Violations
Google must be very careful, in undertaking these changes. As this project has been developed in secret, there is no way to be sure whether or not doing so would be in violation of the Global Network Initiative, the very standards it had created with Microsoft and Yahoo, for interacting with countries with poor human rights records.
Despite GNI’s Executive Director assuring reporters that all companies are “expected to implement the GNI Principles wherever they operate, and are subject to independent assessment, which is overseen by our multi-stakeholder Board of Directors,” there has been no independent verification as to whether Google is involving themselves in state surveillance.
But the implementation of these tools poses more than just a concern for Chinese citizens. These censorship technologies are being developed in the United States, by US citizens. They’re being developed in-secret, by a company with deep ties to many governments across the world. What is stopping Google from implementing the same censorious tools in America, or Europe?
“Don’t Be Evil”
Google once prided itself on its organizational transparency and openness, especially in comparison to companies like Apple and Microsoft. Under the leadership of co-founder Sergey Brin, whose personal experiences with repressive government in the Soviet Union made him especially sensitive to censorship and fascistic practices, Google took great pains to maintain open discourse with its users as well as contributions to open-source software.
No longer does google aim to not “Be Evil.” Their only motto now seems to be, “Don’t Get Caught.”
But this year has been very revealing. Under the leadership of the current CEO, Sundar Pichai, any allusions to the company’s long-held motto are long lost. No longer does Google aim to not “Be Evil.” Their only motto now seems to be, “Don’t Get Caught.” After all, it was only four months ago that Project Maven was revealed to the world.
Project Maven, for those who don’t remember, is Google’s contract with the United States Department of Defense for developing and training artificial intelligence. These AI systems would be integral to identifying structures and human targets from drones as a part of the “kill chain,” the chain of command followed before launching missile strikes from said drones. The search giant’s involvement led to thousands of Google employees speaking out against the project, and even leaking classified information to the press.
Likewise, we only know about Project Dragonfly because of the moral uprightness of one Google employee willing to take the risk of speaking up. The anonymous leaker, in speaking to The Intercept, is quoted as saying, “I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest. What is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
Does Google Have the Right?
And he’s right. With so many people excusing censorship and violations of freedom of speech on the internet, for the reason that “they’re a private company, and can do what they like,” a vocal minority of the population is giving Google carte blanche to exercise any censorious practices they wish. The recent de-platforming of Alex Jones, praised by the media, is nothing but a testing of the waters; and no one is drawing the line in the sand necessary to assure what is done in China is not also done here, in the United States.
We are at a cross-roads, as a people. We can do nothing, and corporations like Google will continue to exercise authority until none can oppose them. Or, we can fight for our liberty. The choice is ours, as Google has already made their decision.