Google’s search engine for China censors results for ‘democracy,’ ‘human rights,’ or ‘free speech’

Early in August, a report from The Intercept claimed that Google was working to make a China-friendly version of its search engine that would censor results to make the government happy. A number of Google engineers quit the company after learning about this particularly egregious breach of Google’s “don’t be evil” policy, and now yet another report from The Intercept reveals exactly what Google was willing to censor.

According to the site’s sources, “Google compiled a censorship blacklist that included terms such as “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin.” 

Working with China to make a customized version of its search engine wouldn’t be the first time that a tech company has kowtowed to an authoritarian government to remove content that it objects to — for example, Apple made sure that the LGBTQ pride watch face for the Apple Watch wouldn’t show up in Russia — but the subject matter that Google was willing to block in China seems much broader:

The report says that Chinese authorities would even have the ability to replace “weather and air pollution data” with Beijing-approved numbers, which if true would move Google particularly close to acting as an arm of the state-run media.

Equally troubling is the allegation that Google would help the government identify anyone who dared search for a term that was on the government blacklist:

More than anything, the report — which is well worth reading in full — shows the extent that even the biggest tech companies will go to in order to capture a share in a major emerging market. It’s easy to argue that if Google doesn’t acquiesce, a local firm will just do so anyway, but clearly Google’s own employees think it’s worth keeping the moral high ground.

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