Google has been accused of being in "chilling" complicity with the Chinese government after plans for a censored version of its search engine were leaked. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google's image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists, meaning that they will not recommend people information or photographs the government has banned.
But Meredith Whittaker, a New York University research scientist and recognized ethicist in artificial intelligence who also happens to be a Google employee, raised questions publicly about whether Google's plan to provide a censored search service in China violated the company's new AI principles.
Chinese state media quickly refuted claims, saying that reports of Google's return to China weren't true.
The Chinese government maintains strict control over what its people can access online. The documents revealed that work on Dragonfly began to speed up last December following a meeting between Google's CEO Sundar Pichai and an unnamed "top Chinese official".
Its Google Translate app for smartphones was approved in China previous year.
Fast forward eight years, and Chinese internet companies are some of the largest on the planet, with much of their success forged on an uneven home playing field on which western companies have been unable to compete.
Google is also working on two mobile apps for search named Maotai and Longfei. It has reportedly been demonstrated to the Chinese authorities and might see a commercial launch within the next six to nine months.
Plans for Google's censored search product aren't completed and it may never come to fruition, the person said. As a result of this firewall, the vast majority of Chinese citizens are said to be largely unaware of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Google insiders don't know if China will approve the app amid an escalating trade dispute with the USA, but Search head Ben Gomes told staff last month to be ready to launch on short notice. A few years later, Google corrected that error and stopped censoring results in China, leading to the site mostly being blocked by China's Great Firewall. Notable banned websites include BBC News and Wikipedia.
To some at Google, the company appears to have dramatically changed its thinking on at least some moral issues.
But the report pummelled shares of US-listed Baidu, which dominates China's search engine market.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose parents brought him to the U.S.to escape communist Russian Federation, led a dramatic exit from mainland China in 2010 after the company refused to self-censor search content. Brin has stepped back from day-to-day operations and the internet giant is now run by Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai.
China's internet censorship laws are well-known. Co-founder Sergey Brin specifically cited totalitarian governments when pulling the Chinese service, though the company had said in 2006 that "removing search results" was better than "providing no information", per CNN.