In short: Google is pushing forward with its idea to launch a censored version of Search for China and the company may introduce such a controversial product as early as next spring, according to a transcript of a July 18 communication from Ben Gomes, the firm's Internet search chief. The document obtained by The Intercept earlier this week reveals Mr. Gomes believes a censored Google Search for China is "extremely important to the company" and its future ambitions.
The Tanzania industry veteran who has been with Google since 1999 also expressed displeasure with the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing as part of the same communication, indicating the tense geopolitical situation inhibited Google's efforts to launch a censored version of Search in the Far Eastern country. Back then, the engineer said a Chinese variant of Search could launch in as little as six to nine months, i.e. as early as January 2019, though he acknowledged that timeline is not definitive due to the uncertain nature of the initiative and the fact that Google is treading entirely new ground with the project.
Background: Code-named Project Dragonfly, Google's efforts to launch a censored version of Search have been met with harsh criticism from both sides of the political spectrum in the United States, with even Vice President Mike Pence recently publicly calling for the company to drop the initiative immediately. The effort whose existence was only known to several hundred people out of Google's 80,000-strong workforce before news about it broke two months back even prompted some employees to quit and blast Alphabet's subsidiary for abandoning its ideology in favor of profits.
While Google Search was once available in China already, the company pulled the plug on the service in 2010 in protest of the Communist government's systematic censorship. As the firm already established absolute search dominance in the West, its growth opportunities are now essentially non-existent outside of China, at least as far as user acquisition is concerned. The ambition to return to the Chinese Internet search market still comes at an inopportune time as Google only recently opted against renewing its contract for Project Maven, a controversial U.S. government initiative that saw it collaborate with Pentagon on weaponizing artificial intelligence technologies. While that decision was prompted by employee activism, Washington didn't respond well to Google's refusal to continue collaborating with the U.S. military while simultaneously working with Beijing officials on having Project Dragonfly approved for commercialization.
Impact: Google's insistence to continue pushing ahead with censored Search for China suggests the company is truly concerned about its growth in the West stagnating and is willing to accept any negative publicity so long as it's given the approval to compete for the attention of over 800 million Internet users in the Far Eastern country. How well will that strategy pay off remains to be seen but as things stand right now, Google is likely to be subjected to significant scrutiny and criticism from government officials and activists in the near future, which won't mix well with bias allegations against the company that are already widespread in stateside conservative circles.