Sundar Pichai defends Google’s controversial search effort in China although final direction not clear
- Search giant follows ‘right to be forgotten’ laws to comply with local rules
- Google has not been available in China for nearly a decade after the company publicly withdrew from the country in protest at censorship
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said in an interview that the company operates in lots of countries around the world where there is censorship and that when the search giant follows “right to be forgotten” laws, it is censoring search results in order to comply with local laws.
Pichai’s comments come after the company’s controversial attempt to launch a censored search product in China – known as Project Dragonfly – triggered an outcry among employees and US politicians amid an escalating trade war and concerns over freedom of speech.
“I’m committed to serving users in China. Whatever form it takes, I actually don’t know the answer,” said Pichai in an interview with The New York Times published on Thursday. “It’s not even clear to me that search in China is the product we need to do today.”
Google has not been available in China for nearly a decade after the company publicly withdrew from the country in protest at censorship and alleged government hacking. But news surfaced in August that the company has been testing a censored version of its Google search product in an attempt to return to China, which is home to 772 million internet users, the biggest online community in the world.
Pichai did not provide any further details on the company’s China plans in the interview but underlined his commitment to the market, three weeks after he publicly acknowledged the existence of the China search engine project for the first time.
Dragonfly has been under way for more than a year and the final version of the modified search app will blacklist sites on human rights, democracy, religion and other issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, according to The Intercept, which was the first to leak Google’s secretive plan for China.
Google executives have faced rising scrutiny from a number of employees and US politicians, who have indicated that Google’s efforts in China could assist the government in “repressing and manipulating” its citizens.
The censored search engine project is not the first time Google has made an attempt to return to the Chinese market. Earlier this year, Google introduced a mini-game powered by artificial intelligence (AI) on WeChat, the ubiquitous social app operated by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings.
Last year, Google announced plans for a research centre in China focused on AI and invested in several Chinese companies, including e-sports site Chushou and artificial intelligence company Mobvoi, as well as e-commerce firm JD.com.