In response to reports that Google is developing a search engine that complies with strict Chinese censorship rules, a China-based researcher at the Amnesty International on Wednesday said that such measures would amount to an attack on freedom of information and Internet.
"We believe that Google's return to China is unlikely in the near-term due to the strained relationship between China and USA on trade", Mizuho tech analyst James Lee said in a research note. But nearly all Google services are banned in the country.
The Intercept has internal documents from a whistleblower that show Google has developed the censored version, codenamed Dragonfly, since early past year. The search engine is being built as an Android mobile app, and will reportedly filter out all websites blocked by China's web censors (including Wikipedia and BBC News) as well as "blacklist sensitive queries".
"The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government - it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship anymore", he said. The Dragonfly has been under development since 2017.
Progress on the project picked up after a December meeting between Google's Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, it added.
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In early 2010, Google shut down its search engine in mainland China after rows over censorship and hacking.
The New York Times, citing two people with knowledge of the plans, said that while the company has demonstrated the service to Chinese government officials, the existence of the project did not mean that Google's return to China was imminent.
Google's search service can not now be accessed by most Internet users in China because it is blocked by the country's so-called Great Firewall. If in case a user searches for a blocked content, he/she will be presented with a warning on the first page which will read as "Some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements". The same filtering will work with all features of Google's search engine, including image searching, spell checking, and search recommendations.
The news app is expected to release on app stores in Chine before the Dragonfly search service and associated app launch. There is no information available now as to when the feature will be available for the other platforms including the desktops.