Facing internal backlash, the CEO of Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOG) Google, Sundar Pichai, downplayed media reports that the company is about to enter the Chinese market with a censorship-friendly mobile search engine.
During a company meeting Thursday, Google’s leader expressed interest in expanding in China but told workers the company wasn’t close to debuting a search product, reported CNBC. What’s more, Pichai said it's still “all very unclear” if it would or could roll out a mobile search product. (See more: Google Bows to Censorship in New China App: Report.)
Reported Search Product Would Block Certain Searches
That is in stark contrast to recent reports that have have been published since The Intercept reported Google was working on a mobile search product dubbed Dragonfly that would adhere to China’s strict censorship laws. Documents viewed by The Intercept show Google’s Chinese search app will identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall in China automatically. The app will also blacklist sensitive search queries with no results being shown when certain words or phrases are entered into the search engine, according to The Intercept.
Google Faces Backlash From Within
The idea that Google would introduce a search product that censors content didn’t sit well with employees. According to CNBC, earlier on Thursday hundreds signed a letter arguing that the plans reported by the press raised “urgent moral and ethical issues." The employees called for more transparency surrounding those efforts. Google was banned from China in 2010 after refusing to abide by censorship laws. (See also: Google Accused of Supporting China's Communist Party More Than US Military.)
During the meeting Pichai told employees that the company has been open about its desire to expand in China, according to CNBC. He said a team at Google has “ been in an exploration stage for quite a while now exploring many options." The CEO acknowledged that any search engine in China would have a lot of catching up to do given that Baidu was besting Google before the U.S. compny was banned from the country and has since grown even more popular. "Stepping back, I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don't see any reason why that would be different in China," Pichai said, according to CNBC.
According to The Intercept’s report, the search engine has been in development since the spring of 2017. Coming on the heels of a meeting between Pichai and a high-ranking government official in China in December, the pace of the project has picked up. The Intercept reported the search engine was demonstrated to officials in China and could be rolled out in the next six to nine months if the Chinese government approves it.