It is reported that the new search engine, codenamed project Dragonfly, has been in development since late past year and more recently received a boost when Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Wang Huning, a high ranking Chinese government official and foreign policy adviser to Xi Jinping, met in December 2017.
Reports that Alphabet Inc's Google may return to the Chinese market are not true, state-owned China Securities Daily reported on Thursday, citing information from "relevant departments". The censorship will extend to Google's image search, spell check, and suggested search features.
However, if/when that Android app launches, it won't be the same version of Google Search you and I are familiar with. The Chinese social media website Weibo is one of the most popular online platforms in the country - that platform blocks information topics such as "anti-communism", authoritarian related novels such as George Orwell's 1984, and much more. Progress picked up following a meeting in December between a top government official of Beijing and Google's CEO Sundar Pichai. For example, it insisted past year that it wasn't blocking VPNs, which are now one of the few options for Chinese citizens who want to bypass the Great Firewall. And Google has apparently changed its mind about censorship. Last summer, Apple faced criticism after it removed VPN software - which many Chinese use to get around the "Great Firewall" - from its Chinese app store. Google's plans to release an app that complies with this philosophy raises questions over whether the company is just doing business within the confines of the market or being complicit in oppression. Two different versions of the app called "Maotai" and "Longfei" have been developed and is pending approval from government officials. The release of a new search engine in China would pit Google against Baidu, which accounts for a almost 70 percent share of the search market in China.
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.
Google's search engine services have always been blocked in China under the so-called Great Firewall.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose parents brought him to the U.S.to escape communist Russian Federation, led a dramatic exit from mainland China in 2010 after the company refused to self-censor search content. Brin has stepped back from day-to-day operations and the internet giant is now run by Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai.
Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty, said in a statement: "It will be a dark day for internet freedom if Google has acquiesced to China's extreme censorship rules to gain market access".
Facebook has set up a subsidiary in China to build an "innovation hub" focused on helping local developers and entrepreneurs to innovate and grow. In its announcement about pulling out of the country in March 2010, Google blamed the Chinese government's censorship and surveillance policies as antithetical to what the company believes.