Google is planning to launch a new version of its search engine for China that would block some search terms and websites, said a pair of sources. The move could mark Google’s return to a market that it abandoned more than eight years ago because of concerns over censorship.
Google’s plan comes during a time that China increased its scrutiny into dealings that involve tech firms from the U.S. including Apple, Qualcomm and Facebook amidst the increased trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Google, which in 2010 left the search engine business in China, has recently been seeking ways of re-entering China where several products it has are blocked by Beijing regulators.
The project is named Dragonfly and began in the spring of 2017, said sources close to the situation. Progress picked up following a meeting in December between a top government official of Beijing and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai.
Amongst words that will be blacklisted in the new search engine app will include those related to democracy, human rights, peaceful protests and religion. The app is said to have been demonstrated to the Beijing government.
The full and finalized version could be launched as soon as early 2019, pending Chinese officials’ approval said the sources.
However, the Securities Times which is owned by the Chinese government said that reports of the search engine by Google returning were not true.
However, an employee at Google who is familiar with the search engine that is censored, confirmed that the project was genuine and moving forward.
A worker, who did not want to be identified, said he saw slides about the censored search engine and that many of Google’s executives were aware as well. He added he transferred from the unit in order not to be involved.
An official in China with knowledge the plans are moving forward, said Google was in contact with Chinese authorities at the government’s Cyberspace Administration of China related to a modified search engine.
The Chinese official, who did not want to be named, said that the new project is not currently approved by authorities and it was highly unlikely that such a project would be able to be up and operating during 2018.
Google has not responded to requests for comments related to the CAC.
Although the new search engine is not guaranteed to be approved, the report pummeled Baidu shares. Baidu is listed in the U.S. and dominates the search engine market of China.