According to an article citing internal Google sources that the US investigative news website The Intercept published yesterday, the tech giant is on the edge of launching a censored Android version of its search engine in China that blacklists certain search terms and websites in exchange for access to the Chinese market.
The blacklist required by Beijing for the sake of “social harmony” includes references to the Tiananmen Square massacre, Taiwanese independence, civil rights, democracy, crackdowns in Tibet and Xinjiang, and a wide range of websites including Wikipedia, the New York Times, the BBC, Bloomberg News and RSF.
The report – on which Google has refused to comment, describing it as “speculation” – is surprising because the tech giant preferred to pull out of the Chinese market in 2010 rather than submit to censorship. RSF is nonetheless concerned by the possibility, as it would necessarily violate the right to online news and information.
“On the pretext of defending ‘national sovereignty,’ President Xi Jinping’s government is exerting a great deal of pressure in order to impose its model of censorship and surveillance on the world,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau.
Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology desk, added: “RSF calls on Google to reject Beijing’s demands outright. If confirmed, this project would provide Beijing with an additional way to pressure and blackmail Google, and would help to normalize China’s repressive model by legitimizing its draconian demands.”
RSF is also concerned about the domino effect on other tech giants that are currently trying to make inroads into this market of 1.3 billion potential users.
Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009 for refusing to yield to censorship, but it is wooing the Chinese authorities and registered a subsidiary in China last month. The professional social network LinkedIn accepted “Beijing rules” when it launched a Chinese version of its site in 2014.
In order to “comply with Chinese regulations,” Apple agreed in January of this year to transfer control of iCloud in China to a company with links to the Chinese government. Last year, Apple triggered an outcry by ridding its Apple Store in China of VPN services that facilitate circumvention of censorship and surveillance.
China is ranked close to the very bottom of RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index – 176th out of 180 countries.