Google is rumoured to be working on an Android search app for the Chinese market. But, before that it is collecting search results it should not throw up.
Last week a whistleblower revealed that Google was planning to re-enter China with a censored search engine, eight years after it shut down google.cn due to governmental pressure. Now, we know a little more about how Google intends to do that.
The company is using search results from a Beijing-based website, 265.com, which it had acquired back in 2008, to make blacklists of terms, according to The Intercept. 265.com, founded in 2003 by Chinese entrepreneur Cai Wensheng, provides news updates, links to information about stock markets, ads for cheap flights and hotels, and so on. It also serves as a web directory for images, videos, and other content.
Interestingly, 265.com search results are redirected to Baidu, Google’s chief competitor in China. But, Google has access to the terms users search for on 265.com which is now hosted on its servers. Utilising the search data, Google is drawing up a list of thousands of websites blocked by China’s Great Firewall (its government-backed internet filter and control system).
These are the sites Google would likely to censor in its upcoming Android search app for China. Some of the blacklisted searches include topics like Tiananmen Square massacre, freedom of speech, and so on. Users will be displayed a blank page if they search for these terms. The Great Firewall restricts any content that is unfavourable to China’s ruling communist party.
While Google continues to dismiss “speculation” surrounding its renewed interest in China — a market that has traditionally been hostile to Western tech companies in favour of homegrown internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (collectively known as BAT) — the whistleblower’s account to The Intercept is fairly detailed.
The report states,
“The Dragonfly [codename for Google’s China search engine] developers used a tool they called ‘BeaconTower’ to check whether the websites were blocked by the Great Firewall. They compiled a list of thousands of websites that were banned, and then integrated this information into a censored version of Google’s search engine so that it would automatically manipulate Google results, purging links to websites prohibited in China from the first page shown to users.”
Why China won’t be easy for Google
Despite its keen attention towards the new product, cracking China’s internet search market would be something. Google has to contend with Baidu, which owns 74 percent of the internet search market, according to StatCounter’s July data.
It is followed by Shenma (15 percent), Haosou (4.1 percent), Sogou (3.9 percent), 360 Search (3.2 percent) and Bing (1 percent). In addition, there are scores of smaller search engines designed for mobile, given China’s large smartphone user base.
Moreover, internet and human right activists aren’t too pleased with Google’s decision to toe the Chinese government’s line on internet censorship. They reckon Google is “putting profits before human rights” and “setting a chilling precedent”.
Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, stated, “It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘Do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course. For the world’s biggest search engine to adopt such extreme measures would be a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom.”