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In the nearly 10 years since Google moved its China operations to Hong Kong, the number of Internet users in China has almost doubled.

Between 2006 and 2010, Google actually ran a censored version of its search engine in China.

Google plans to build a censored search engine for China, and condemnation is coming swift and hard from politicians, Google users, and even some Google employees.

Facebook's website is also banned in China but the company has also signalled its interest to enter the market. Unfortunately, the Intercept is reporting on some internal documents that suggest Google is moving back in the other direction, and testing a censored version of its search engine for China.

Asked about The Intercept report, Google said in a statement that "we don't comment on speculation about future plans". Google has been making a series of strategic investments into Chinese businesses as a way to indirectly gain access to one of the world's largest markets, but now may be taking a more direct approach.

"The reality is that they will be serving the Chinese government", said Lockman Tsui, former head of free expression for Google in Asia.

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As a result of Google's absence, Baidu is the dominant search engine in China, and approved by its government.

Depending on when the Chinese government approves the "toned down" Google, the app could launch anytime in the next 6-9 months. The company also has apps like Google Translate and Files Go available in the Chinese market, but major services like Gmail, Search and Play Store are still not available in the country. In other words, after pulling out of China on account of the local censorship laws, which have only become worse since then, Google seems ready to return and accept the government's requests.

As The Intercept reports, a small team within Google have been working on a project called Dragonfly since the spring of 2017.

China of course is widely considered to have one of the most repressive Internet censorship schemes in the world, which is created to prevent criticism of the ruling Communist Party and suppress dissent and other information deemed to be unsafe. The Information reports (paywall) that a competitor to AI-powered news app Toutiao has also been under development by Google "since past year", and that, of course, it would "comply with the country's strict censorship laws". To recall, Google's search engine can not be accessed normally in China, considering it has been blocked by the country's "Great Firewall". The same filtering will work with all features of Google's search engine, including image searching, spell checking, and search recommendations. In the first half of 2018, China's national internet regulator shut down or revoked the license of more than 3000 websites.

China has in the past two years imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies, including new censorship restrictions. Google's stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us.


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