In a change of direction, Google reportedly plans to introduce a censored search engine in China that would blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest. It's not clear whether its advertising services will go along too.
Google's strength in mobile would certainly give the company a lead in search and advertising services.
Leaked documents to one media outlet suggests Google has been developing a censored version of its search engine dubbed “Dragonfly,” so the company can return its services to one of the world’s largest markets to compete with Baidu, which now leads in Chinese search.
“We don’t comment on speculation about future plans,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an email to Search Marketing Daily. “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go [to] help Chinese developers, and has made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com.”
The report seems farfetched, but not out of the question. In June, Google announced a $550 million investment in JD.com, a Chinese ecommerce company. As part of the agreement, JD.com joined Google Shopping, the company's online commence retail network, and brought some its products to consumers.
If reports are accurate, it would not be the first time the internet giant censored its search results in China. In 2006, Google released a China-based version of its search engine that met with the country’s censorship laws after pulling out in 2003 after refusing to continue censoring content.
The company finally agreed to remove some content from serving up in the search results on google.cn to adhere to local law and continue operating in China. Then in 2010, Google reversed its decision and began redirecting all google.cn users to its unfiltered Chinese search engine in Hong Kong.
The most recent report about its pending strategy suggests Google engineers built a custom Android app, the two versions named “Maotai” and “Longfei.” Both were demonstrated to the Chinese government. Pending approval by the Chinese government, the final version could launch in the next six to nine months.
The document cited a list of websites that will be subject to the censorship, including some from the British news broadcaster BBC and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The censorship will apply to Google image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features.
Censorship seems to be a way of life in China, as Baidu, the number one search engine in China, mentioned “censorship” during its second quarter 2018 earnings call on Tuesday when Alicia Yap, analyst at Citigroup Global Markets Asia, asked about “the recent operating environment for the overall newsfeed and advertising content censorship. Have you actually seen more step-up by the regulators on paying more closely attentions to some of this ad content format and the content that carried the ads?”
In response, Baidu Founder Robin Li said “We always hold a very high standard on our content for newsfeed. We do not want to give users something that's illegal or something that's under our borderline.”
Baidu reported earnings that topped Wall Street profit estimates and showed growth for its online advertising business. Revenue for the ad business rose 25% to 21.1 billion Chinese Yuan, $3.10 billion. Revenue rose, but shares fell Wednesday as investors reacted to a report that Google would launch a new censored search engine in China.