A report last week from The Intercept claimed that Google was developing a search engine or mobile search app to re-enter the Chinese search market. The article went on to describe how the search tool would censor content deemed offensive or sensitive by the Chinese government.
The Intercept has more details on the project and how it has been developed, based reportedly on “confidential documents.” Various project code names have been mentioned, including “Dragonfly.”
According to the article, Chinese website 265.com, which Google bought in 2008, has helped the company build a database of search queries, websites and keywords that will be “blacklisted.”
From The Intercept’s article:
After gathering sample queries from 265.com, Google engineers used them to review lists of websites that people would see in response to their searches. The Dragonfly 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.
In January 2010, Google quit China after Gmail was hacked by Chinese government-affiliated individuals or groups. However, since that decision, Google has been contemplating when and how to return to the world’s largest internet market.
Since the initial report last week, Google employees have apparently expressed concern about collaborating with what is perceived to be an authoritarian and repressive regime. Google has declined to comment publicly, and no formal announcements have been made internally.
The original report said that Chinese authorities are aware of the project (and approved it). It added that a mobile search app for Android could launch in China in the first half of 2019.