Google has been largely absent from China for several years now, but last month, news broke that it was working on censored versions of Search and News for the country. The reveal sparked outrage, both inside and outside of Google, and at least a few employees have left the company as a result. According to The Intercept, part of the plans include a way for users to be tracked by phone number, and modifying weather data to under-represent pollution levels.
A prototype of the search engine linked each search to the user's phone number, making it easier to tell what an individual person looked up - no doubt an appealing feature for the Chinese government. The report also says Google created a blacklist of words that included the Mandarin phrases for "student protest," "human rights," and "Nobel Prize."
Another troubling detail revealed by The Intercept comes from how the search service will report weather data. Google Search currently obtains weather information from external services, like The Weather Channel. In China, this data would be replaced by information from "an unnamed source in Beijing." China has a record of under-reporting pollution levels in major cities, so it's possible the Chinese search engine would provide false pollution data.
It's unclear if any of these plans have changed since the initial search engine prototype. We've reached out to Google for comment, and we will update this article if they respond.
Here is Google's official response:
"We've been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China."
- The Intercept