Google plans to conduct a censored search engine in China
According to documents leaked to the interception, Google plans to launch a censored search engine in China. NPR’s Audie Cornish talked with Ryan Gallagher, the storybreaker, and Rob Schmitz, NPR’s Chinese journalist, about the Internet experience in China.
AUDIE CORNISH, moderator:
Google was once criticized for running a review version of its search engine in China, and sometimes legislators are accepting assignments at the Capitol Hill hearing. This is a video of the 2006 New Jersey representative Chris Smith.
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CORNISH: By 2010, Google has withdrawn from China. However, it is reported that it now plans to release a search application for Chinese users that is once again in line with the Chinese censorship law. This is based on internal documents leaked to the interception and was released earlier this week. In order to tell us more about these plans and why Google has changed its attitude towards China, we have Ryan Gallagher. He is an interceptor who broke the story. Welcome to the program.
RYAN GALLAGHER: Hello. Thank you for owning me.
GALLAGHER: Ok, so my idea is that Google has been developing a specific custom Chinese version of Google Search that will comply with the ruling Communist regime and China’s very strict censorship of information, you know, opposition politicians, about democracy Regarding human rights, it even contains academic works that are unfavourable to the government. This kind of thing is widely blocked. Therefore, Google’s review version in China must comply with this rule. This is what they plan to launch.
CORNISH: As we mentioned before, Google has been around for nearly a decade. So help us understand. What is the reason for its first withdrawal and what has changed?
GALLAGHER: Well, you heard that – introducing Google’s heat is so extreme that I think the company is just – and ultimately just – it decides it will not continue. In fact, one of Google’s co-founders, Sergey Brin, was one of the people who dominated Google at the time, and he was very uncomfortable with the censorship system.
When he was a child, he grew up in the Soviet Union. He knows how it feels to live under this kind of suppression. He was one of the strong voices at the time and they thought they should not do this. Therefore, things have changed dramatically in the past eight years, and they have returned to the original point. Part of the reason is due to changes in Google’s leadership.
CORNISH: This change in leadership, they think, what needs to be done to bring Google into China?
GALLAGHER: Sundar Pichai, the current CEO of Google, wants to return to the Chinese market. For an Internet company, this is an absolutely huge and huge market. There are 750 million Internet users in China. This is not just the population of the entire continent of Europe. Google needs to pay the price because they have to compromise their values. They have always claimed to be a company that believes in open access to information. And it has clearly introduced a censored search engine that deliberately manipulates and blocks setup information – you know, this undermines Google’s belief in these values.
CORNISH: If a big company like this succumbs to the requirements needed to enter the Chinese market, what impact does it have on the US technology industry?
GALLAGHER: I think it’s a bit – it sets a precedent in some way, you know, because Google is so influential that other companies may actually feel more comfortable politically if Google’s company decides it will go. Therefore, from the Internet freedom, from public access to information, from a democratic perspective, this will be very negative. And I think this will not only affect the decision of American companies. It may also affect European companies, other Asian companies, and even companies currently operating in China, which may try to be more resistant to some of the government’s censorship requirements.
CORNISH: Ryan Gallagher of The Intercept, thank you for talking to us.
GALLAGHER: Thank you very much for letting me get involved. I am grateful.
CORNISH: Ok, NPR Shanghai reporter Rob Schmitz is here. He spent a lot of time in China. He will join us now and talk about it a bit. Welcome to the studio, Rob.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Is this really a surprise, has Google taken this action?
Schmitz: I think this is not surprising for us, because we saw Google’s CEO coming to China last year. He participated in the World Internet Conference, an annual conference in eastern China. Moreover, you know that the purpose of these meetings is to try to legalize the Chinese version of the Internet under or after China’s internal censorship system.
CORNISH: You mentioned the firewall. Explain what it is. What is the feeling of using the Internet in China? For example, what kind of access do they have to Google?
Schmitz: So as a non-Chinese, using the Internet in China is very frustrating because you will go online; you will go to the browser and you may enter one of the many websites you visit frequently. What are the websites that are usually accessed on the Internet, Audie?
CORNISH: Well, there are a lot of news sites (laughter).
Schmitz: That’s right, okay, so in China, these news sites will not be available. They – you may enter the New York Times and you will get an error message. Or it will sit there, it will think for a while, nothing will happen because it is blocked in China. If you want to access our daily Gmail, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and any of these sites, all of these sites will be blocked in China. For those of us outside China, we use a virtual private network (also known as a VPN) to climb the firewall and use the Internet there.
CORNISH: Has government review increased or decreased since Google left China around 2010?
Schmitz: It has increased. The situation is getting worse. China has enacted many laws that stipulate that it is illegal to publish information that it believes to be inaccurate or sensitive. If it is forwarded multiple times, you can go to the prison. This means for many people – they must be very careful. Everyone in China knows this. This has led to a reduction in the use of the Weibo platform, which, like Twitter, was once one of the largest social media networks in China. Tens of millions of users have left Weibo and switched to WeChat, a more intimate Chinese social media network, more like Facebook, where you only share information between friends. When you post something on the Internet, you won’t be affected too much.
Cornish: Who really benefits here? For example, what can China do in this way and other ways to accept Google?
Schmitz: Well, when you talk about China, there are always two Chinese. There are governments and the Communist Party, then the Chinese people. I believe that the Chinese Communist Party has benefited from legalizing its Internet system. The company has always advocated the free flow of information and the free access to information. When you talk about Chinese, I am not sure if they will benefit from it because they already have a censored Internet search engine Baidu.
I think that when you talk about Google as an American to us, as an American company, it provides us with the ideal information. You know, we can get everything we want. Google’s Website Mission Statement – Organize the world’s information to make it universally available and useful. Now, if Google has a censored search engine in the Chinese market, I don’t see how they do not violate this mission statement unless they have a separate mission statement for China.
CORNISH: That is Rob Schmitz of NPR, our Shanghai reporter. Rob, thank you for talking to us.
Schmitz: Any time.
CORNISH: We also want to note that we have contacted Google to comment on this story. A spokesperson for the company responded that Google has provided a large number of mobile applications in China to help Chinese developers and invest heavily in Chinese companies, but he said, “We will not comment on future plans.”