Google famously pulled out of China in 2010 rather than continue censoring its search results as required by the Chinese government. However, Android has since come to dominate the Chinese market, and this has led the company to reconsider its position. According to a report by Reuters, Google plans to launch a China-specific version of the Play Store in 2016.
This isn't the first time we've heard rumblings about Google getting back into China. A report several months ago claimed that Google was working on a stripped down version of Google Play for China. We've also seen hints of China support in an APK teardown. According to Reuters, the Play Store will be the first step and will pave the way for more services in the future. However, in the five years since Google left China, local players have solidified their hold on maps, search, and other areas.
Google would, of course, need to comply with China's data storage and content filtering laws. Google's app store is seen as a good first step as there's going to be less content that the Chinese government finds objectionable compared to something like search. Importantly, having the Play Store accessible in China will also provide a legitimate, safe place for users to get apps. Shady Chinese app repositories are often crawling with malware and scams.
So, that's where we are. All signs point to Google returning to China, but we'll see what that looks like in a few months (maybe).
- Johny Hongkong