Internal documents leaked from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have shown that the internet behemoth has decided that it’s now ok with widespread internet censorship and freedom of speech restrictions, and is willing to hop into bed with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
A report in The Intercept has outlined the plans which have been codenamed Project Dragonfly, and which have been underway since Spring 2017.
It involves Google launching a new Chinese version of its search engine which would be in complete compliance with the CCP’s online censorship programme, which is the most intrusive on earth.
The new Chinese Google would be willing to block websites that are not approved by the CCP and also blacklist the huge number of sensitive search terms which are outlawed in China.
This means that Google is now willing to block content and searches on topics like democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, religion, CCP atrocities such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and sensitive topics such as Taiwanese independence and Hong Kong democracy.
They would even be willing to go so far as to block content such as Winnie the Pooh and Peppa Pig, both of whom are persona non grata in Communist China.
While the programme has been under development, Google officials have been busy pandering to CCP officials. The leaked documents reveal the programme was sped up around December 2017 after Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai held meetings with senior officials.
It is thought that the new censored Google is not far off completion either. A customised Android app, known in different versions as either “Maotai” and “Longfei” is all but ready.
And it is reported that Google China could be ready to launch in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Communist Party officials.
Why Google’s complicity with CCP censorship matters
Google itself has been blocked in China since 2010 when the company voluntarily shut down its Chinese search engine citing the fact that the CCP was trying to “restrict free speech on the internet.”
Four years prior to this withdrawal, Google sought to comply with CCP censorship but faced a barrage of criticism in the US as well as internally.
It seems that then, as the company has now dropped their famous ‘Don’t be Evil’ company motto, it has decided that principals and freedoms cannot be allowed to stand in the way of corporate profits.
Explaining why this matters, the whistleblower said they were leaking Google’s plans because they were “against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.” They also suggested that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
This is absolutely true. China is already seeking to export its model of extreme internet censorship and surveillance to the world. Many central Asian countries already use some form of it while Russia is keen to move down the same road.
As Amnesty International Researcher, Patrick Poon told The Verge, Google complying with CCP censorship will be a huge propaganda victory for online censorship and send a strong message to other companies to not bother opposing internet censorship anymore.
Will Google gamble?
The return of Google to Communist China is not yet certain. Any new Google service would need to meet the precise standards of China’s internet censorship apparatus. This is not easy, and the CCP regime is notoriously protectionist, so it is by no means certain that they would want Google challenging local market leaders like Baidu.
Google does also have a track record of dropping projects it has developed. In the wake of the barrage of criticism this leak is likely to result in, they may reconsider, especially if they are not confident they can become market leaders in China.
But for those who value online freedoms, the fact that they are even considering returning to the censored Chinese market is deeply concerning.
Google’s reputation with users is already pretty low. They are known to harvest user data and make their huge profits from customers private data.
To even give the suggestion of caring about online freedoms, you would think they would recommend Chinese netizens use a VPN such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN to access their full uncensored search engine, rather than simply comply with that censorship themselves.
It remains to be seen if Google is willing to gamble their reputation in the free world for access to the lucrative but controversial Chinese markets.
But if they do, our advice to all Chinese internet users will be to stick with your VPN and, like other internet users around the world, give Google the cold shoulder and try a privacy-friendly search engine like DuckDuckGo instead.