Google won’t comment on the scoop by The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher, which pretty well confirms the story: The company is rushing back into China with a search app that enforces the regime’s censorship rules. So much for that “Don’t be evil” slogan.
Gallagher cites internal memos, surely leaked by an insider, about the “Dragonfly” project to write an app for Android phones that could launch within months. The app will automatically suppress references to “anticommunist,” “dissidents,” the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, “Animal Farm,” “1984” and on and on and on.
Any “sensitive queries” on the regime’s blacklist will yield a “no results shown.”
Google knows how bad this looks: The project’s been restricted to a few hundred employees, Gallagher reports, “planned by a handful of top executives and managers . . . with no public scrutiny.”
Of course, Google has played footsie with Beijing before, running a censor-friendly search engine in China from 2006 to 2010. When it quit, it cited a wake of cyberattacks from China, “attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the Web in China” and state surveillance of dissidents’ Gmail accounts.
Censorship in China is worse than ever, yet Google is headed back. In fact, CEO Sundar Pichai announced back in 2016, “We want to be in China serving Chinese users.”
It’s a huge market, with vast potential for profit. So what if you have to empower the “forces of totalitarianism,” as Google co-founder Sergey Brin put it in 2010?
Hmm. In June, after 3,000 of its workers asked “that neither Google nor its contractors … ever build warfare technology,” Google bowed out of a Pentagon contract. Shouldn’t those scruples apply to the perversion of Google’s tech for thought control?
Saying no to China would leave a lot more cash on the table, but Google is enormously profitable — earning big-time off of content it does nothing to create.
And if so large a player kowtows to China’s commissars, it’ll be even easier for smaller fry to pull the same cynical sellout.
There’s still time to stand up for free thought, free speech and a free Internet.
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