Published: Tue, October 16, 2018
IT | By Lester Massey

Google still mulling a censored search engine in China: Sunder Pichai

Google still mulling a censored search engine in China: Sunder Pichai

The concerns that USA officials, Google employees and civil rights activists alike have, are that if Google did release a version that complies with the Chinese government's heavy restrictions, it will be helping it in limiting free speech.

Through internal tests, he said Google found it would be able serve "well over 99% of queries".

Google's possible return to China - a market it abandoned over censorship concerns in 2010 - was first leaked in August by "The Intercept" which reported that the U.S. tech giant was secretly developing "Dragonfly", a custom-made search engine for the huge Chinese market.

Speaking at the Wired 25th anniversary conference late Monday, Pichai said Google leaders "feel obliged to think hard" about China despite criticism over the possibly of cooperating with Chinese censorship.

Pichai said that there are many areas where Google could provide "information better than what's available" to people in China.

Pichai also addressed Google's decision to withdraw from a bid for a major Pentagon cloud computing project, saying the company was not opposed to working with the military but did not want to be part of automated weapons. "We have built a set of hacks and we have kept them".

Google had launched a search engine in China in 2006 but pulled the plug in 2010.

Ben Gomes, Google's search engine chief, told employees that China was "arguably the most interesting market in the world today" and that Google needed to be there, according to a leaked internal email published earlier this month by The Intercept.

The US Congress and the White House have also expressed disapproval, calling the potential product a threat to democracy and a way to "strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers", according to US Vice-President Mike Pence. Government official might ask Google to give information about users who try to search for "forbidden" topics, potentially making the American company compliant with China's practices. The executive defended the project, telling people that Google is "compelled by [its] mission [to] provide information to everyone", but it also has to follow the laws in every country. "If there is a way to sort of freeze some of it, so it can be brought off the shelf and quickly deployed while we are dripping it all out, and changing it, we should take the long-term view". "But even on this particular issue it's not what the employees said, its more the debate within the AI community", Pichai said.

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