The saga of Google’s China operations has been a depressing one for the world’s pre-eminent search engine, after a high-profile falling out with the Communist Party in 2009. That year, as the number of Internet users in the country continued to explode, the website boasted close to one-third of search-engine market share in China. By 2014, Google’s piece of the pie had shriveled to just over 4%.
Google made a fateful decision that it would rather abandon the Chinese market than give in to demands that it censor search results at the direction of Beijing.
In the nearly 10 years since Google moved its China operations to Hong Kong, the number of Internet users in China has almost doubled. And Google has apparently changed its mind about censorship.
According to a report from The Intercept published on Wednesday, the world’s largest search engine has been working for more than a year with officials in Beijing to launch a new product to reach China’s netizens.
Project “Dragonfly,” as it is codenamed, involves a custom Android app that has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government and could be launched as early as within the next six months.
The search app, according to The Intercept, which cited internal Google documents, will “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” when people search for certain terms.
The desktop version of Google’s search website is currently unavailable to many Internet users within China. It is unclear from the documents seen by The Intercept whether this first foray into heavily censored searching – via the mobile app – will be followed by a decision to censor the website itself.