For the first time, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has commented publicly on reports that the technology giant is developing a censor-friendly search app specifically for the China market.
Speaking at Wired’s 25th-anniversary conference in San Francisco on Monday, Pichai said: “The reason we did the internal project – it’s been years we’ve been out of the market … We wanted to learn what it would be like if Google was in China.”
He added that the company is taking “a longer-term view” of the country.
Code-named “Dragonfly”, the project is said to be part of the company’s efforts to return to the market.
Google’s core search engine has not been available in China since 2010, when the company exited the market in protest of the country’s censorship laws and alleged government hacks.
The Dragonfly project has sparked criticism that Google was willing to sacrifice its principles such a transparency and freedom of information and play by the government’s censorship rules to gain access to the vast Chinese market and thereby boost its profits.
After a report about Google’s secretive project was published by news website The Intercept in August, a handful of staff resigned in protest, and about 1,000 employees reportedly signed an open letter asking for more transparency.
Speaking at the conference, Pichai stressed that Google has not decided if it will actually launch the search app in China, saying that the plan is still in the exploratory stage.
The company wants “to balance it with what the conditions would be”, he said.
But if it does, the search engine’s biggest competition obviously would be Baidu.
Describing China as “a wonderful, innovative market” where about 20 percent of the world’s population live, Pichai said: “Given how important the market is and how many users there are, we feel obliged to think hard about this problem and take a longer-term view.”
He said the China-focused search engine would be able to “serve well over 99 percent of queries”.
Even though this Google version will not offer Chinese people free access to information amid the country’s strict censorship laws, Pichai believes it would still be better than “what’s available [in China]“, obviously referring to Baidu, the dominant search engine in the country.
He said the company’s mission “is to provide information to everyone” and that means balancing a set of values every time it works in foreign countries.
“We’re providing users access to information, freedom of expression, user privacy, but we also follow the rule of law in every country,” he said.
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