Google is reportedly planning to launch a censored search app in China


Google may be launching Search for China.

Google is planning to release a censored version of its search app in China, according to a report from The Intercept.

The hush-hush project is code-named "Dragonfly" and has been underway since the spring of 2017, according to The Intercept, which first reported the story, citing internal Google documents and sources familiar with the plans. The company has now allegedly built an Android app that Google has demonstrated to the Chinese government and could launch in 2019.

According to The Intercept's Ryan Gallagher, who first reported on the tech giant's plans on Wednesday, "The project-code-named Dragonfly-has been underway since spring of previous year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google's CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official".

Google's search engine services have always been blocked in China under the so-called Great Firewall.

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The Intercept also reports that Google CEO Sundar Pichai met with a senior Chinese government official in December past year and the government has been shown the service and Android app working. Eventually, the company made a decision to scrap the search engine after Chinese human rights activists' Gmail accounts were hacked in a coordinated attack and negotiations with the Chinese government predictably failed to result in any kind of agreement.

A Google spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the company "does not comment on speculation about future plans".

First published August 1 at 8:25 a.m. PT. Update, 12:45 p.m.: Adds more information.

California-based Google would also face stiff competition from China's Baidu - though stock in that company fell Wednesday on news of Google's possible return. A variety of Google products and services were not allowed in the country as the company refused to abide by local censorship and data storage laws.

At stake is the world's biggest online community of 772 million internet users, with nearly half of the population still not connected to the internet, according to the China Internet Report co-authored by the South China Morning Post, its tech news site Abacus and the San Francisco-based venture capital firm 500 start-ups. "It will set a bad precedent for many other companies who are still trying to do business in China while maintaining the principles of not succumbing to China's censorship".

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The official, who declined to be named, said the project does not now have approval from authorities and that it is "very unlikely" such a project would be made available this year.

Human rights group Amnesty International said it was calling on Google to change course.

A source said that staff aware of the project had concerns about Google's role in censorship, planned by top executives without public scrutiny. But that doesn't mean it'll be easy for the company to explain the concessions it'll have to make to the government.

The project is now codenamed as "Dragonfly" and would bring Google Search to China in the form of an Android app. Like, plans to re-launch a China-optimised version of Google Play. Facebook (FB), which competes with Google for advertising revenue, is also locked out of China. Earlier this year, there was open employee revolt, and a few employees resigned in protest of Google's intended use of its AI technology to support US Defense Department initiatives.

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