Google declined Wednesday to confirm reports that it plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, where its main search platform was previously blocked, along with its YouTube video platform.
News website The Intercept first reported the story, saying the search app was being tailored for the Google-backed Android operating system for mobile devices.
"It will be a dark day for internet freedom if Google has acquiesced to China's extreme censorship".
Google's search has been banned in mainland China for years due to the company not conforming to the government's regulations on what should and should not be censored on the Internet.
The project is code-named Dragonfly, an Intercept report notes, and has been secretly in development since last spring, accelerating after a December 2017 meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the Kissinger of China, Wang Huning, who's a top foreign policy adviser of China's President Xi.
A Google spokeswoman said that the company would not speculate on future plans, but that it did already have a notable presence in China. Sources indicate that some Google employees have also claimed that the escalating trade war between the USA and China means that approval for the finalization of this project won't necessarily be granted.
"Don't Be Evil, unless it's worth untold new riches", wrote Mother Jones national affairs editor Mark Follman in response to Gallagher's reporting, referencing Google's longstanding unofficial motto.
The initial plans to roll out the search service is through an Android app developed by Google; it's known by the names "Longfei" and "Maotai".
Google did operate in the country from 2006 to 2010, when it also agreed to the local censorship laws, facing harsh criticism from United States officials.
Search terms about human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protests would be among the words blacklisted in the search engine app, the report said.
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. At the same time, there are over 750 million internet users there, which Google would love to gain access to.
However, if/when that Android app launches, it won't be the same version of Google Search you and I are familiar with. According to the Intercept's anonymous sources, Project Dragonfly was restricted to a few hundred engineers and was not made available for public consultation.
"The reality is that they will be serving the Chinese government", said Lockman Tsui, former head of free expression for Google in Asia. There are a lot of countries that would gladly pay a pretty penny to censor the internet in their region. This gives Google a re-entry into the Chinese market but many see it as Google compromising on its own principles.