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Google CEO Tells Senators That Censored Chinese Search Engine Could Provide “Broad Benefits”

Oct 13, 2018 by

Related imageRyan Gallagher –

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has refused to answer a list of questions from U.S. lawmakers about the company’s secretive plan for a censored search engine in China.

In a letter newly obtained by The Intercept, Pichai told a bipartisan group of six senators that Google could have “broad benefits inside and outside of China,” but said he could not share details about the censored search engine because it “remains unclear” whether the company “would or could release a search service” in the country.

Pichai’s letter contradicts the company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, who informed staff during a private meeting that the company was aiming to release the platform in China between January and April 2019. Gomes told employees working on the Chinese search engine that they should get it ready to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed.”

According to sources and confidential Google documents, the search engine for China, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed to comply with the strict censorship regime imposed by China’s ruling Communist Party. It would restrict people’s access to broad categories of information, blacklisting phrases like “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize.”

The Chinese platform was designed to link people’s searches to their phone number, track their location, and then share that data with a Chinese partner company. This would make it easy to track individual users’ searches, raising concerns that any person in China using Google to seek out information banned by the government could be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain copies of their search records.

In his letter to the senators, dated August 31, Pichai did not mention the word “censorship” or address human rights concerns. He told the senators that “providing access to information to people around the world is central to our mission,” and said he believed Google’s tools could “help to facilitate an exchange of information and learning.” The company was committed to “promoting access to information, freedom of expression, and user privacy,” he wrote, while also “respecting the laws of jurisdictions in which we operate.”

After The Intercept first revealed Dragonfly in early August, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., demanded information from Pichai. They called Dragonfly “deeply troubling” and said it “risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime.” Launching the censored search engine would be “a coup for the Chinese government” and set “a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” they wrote in a letter that was also signed by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Pichai did not answer nine specific questions the senators asked, including, “Which ‘blacklist’ of censored searches and websites are you using? Are there any phrases or words that Google is refusing to censor?”

Source: Google CEO Tells Senators That Censored Chinese Search Engine Could Provide “Broad Benefits”

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