Chinese state media said Google’s decision to leave the country in 2010 was a “huge blunder which resulted in the company missing golden chances in the mainland’s internet development,” the South China Morning Post reported. The People’s Daily said that “Google is welcome to return to the mainland, but it’s a prerequisite that it must comply with the requirements of the law.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Intercept first reported that Google planned to develop a China-compliant search engine that would blacklist websites and search terms tied to human rights, peaceful protest and democracy. Internet users in China can’t access Google’s search engine now because the service is blocked by the government’s far-reaching censorship infrastructure, known as the “Great Firewall.” But the Google app would comply with the country’s censorship laws and limit users to Web content approved by the regime, according to the report.
Members of Congress have described the possibility of Google’s return to China as “deeply troubling,” citing China’s human rights abuses, oppressive surveillance regime and what lawmakers and others say is a history of stealing the technology of private foreign businesses in the service of advancing the Chinese government’s hold on the population.
Last week, a bipartisan group of six senators sent a letter to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, criticizing the reported project and seeking to confirm details of the app and of Google’s decision-making process for the venture.
“It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google — the biggest search engine in the world — to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” the letter said.
Google’s high-profile departure from China eight years ago came after the company said it was the victim of a sophisticated cyberattack that targeted the Gmail accounts of human rights activists there. The company said also that its properties were persistently blocked, including YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger, in what it described as further limits on Internet free speech. Google ultimately decided to stop censoring its search and news services for users in China, leading to its exit.
“We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement,” the company said in 2010, recognizing that its services would be blocked.
The project Google is said to be developing highlights the enormous opportunity that technology companies see in China, where Internet growth is booming, with nearly 800 million users, according to estimates. Facebook is also blocked in the country, but the social network is vying to gain a foothold. The company obtained a license to open a $30 million subsidiary there to function as a start-up incubator investing and consulting with small businesses.