By Diane Cooke
Google's China project, codenamed Dragonfly, was launched in spring 2017, according to The Intercept.
Since then, small teams of engineers have been developing a custom Android app, different versions of which have been named “Maotai” and “Longfei.” The app has been designed to filter out content deemed undesirable by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political opponents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest. The censored search will “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” when people enter certain words or phrases, according to internal Google documents.
Google previously launched a censored search engine in China in 2006, but pulled the service out of the country in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems. The planned relaunch would represent a reversal of that decision.
But employees are not the only ones concerned about the move. US senators have slammed the company over its “deeply troubling” plans to develop the censored search engine, and called on the tech firm’s chief executive to deliver answers surrounding the rumoured project. Google has not yet responded to the rumours.
The group of six policymakers, made up of members from both the Republican and Democratic party, have demanded more details from the US company over claims it is creating an app that would prevent Chinese citizens from searching terms about human rights, democracy and religion.
Chinese state-owned Securities Times, however, said reports of the return of Google's search engine to China were not true, citing information from "relevant departments".
But a Google employee familiar with the censored version of the search engine confirmed to Reuters the project was alive and genuine.
On an internal message board, the employee wrote: "In my opinion, it is just as bad as the leak article mentions."
The worker, who declined to be named, said he had seen slides on the effort and that many executives at the VP level were aware of it. He said he had transferred out of his unit to avoid being involved.
Separately, a Chinese official with knowledge of the plans said Google has been in contact with authorities at the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) about a modified search program.
The official, who declined to be named, said the project does not currently have approval from authorities and it is "very unlikely" such a project would be made available this year.
The plan comes as China has stepped up scrutiny into business dealings involving US tech firms including Facebook, Apple and Qualcomm, amid intensifying trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.