Wednesday, 29 August 2018 12:19

Rights groups ask Google to drop China search plan

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Rights groups ask Google to drop China search plan Pixabay

Google has come under pressure from 14 human rights organisations in the US to drop its plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

The Intercept reported that among the 14 were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Access Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, PEN International, and Human Rights in China.

In an open letter sent to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, the groups said the move to do a deal of this nature with China was "an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights".

Reports about the proposed project first appeared in the same publication on 1 August, citing internal documents and people who were said to be familiar with the plans.

Subsequently, there were reports that managers at Google were trying to shut down access to any material connected to the project. Another report said that engineers had used used search queries from a Chinese Web directory service owned by the company to develop blacklists for the censored search engine.

Google pulled out of China in 2010, after it had run a censored version of its search engine since 2006. At the time it pulled out, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said that the situation in China reminded him of his home country, the Soviet Union.

The rights groups said: "If Google’s position has indeed changed, then this must be stated publicly, together with a clear explanation of how Google considers it can square such a decision with its responsibilities under international human rights standards and its own corporate values.

"Without these clarifications, it is difficult not to conclude that Google is now willing to compromise its principles to gain access to the Chinese market.”

The new bid to launch a censored search engine was apparently kicked off after a meeting between Google chief executive Sundar Pichai and Wang Huning, a senior figure in the Chinese Communist Party, last December. Work on the search app was begun during the Western spring of 2017 and had been fast-tracked after the Pichai-Huning meeting.

Following the meeting with Huning, Google decided to open an artificial intelligence research centre in Beijing. In May 2018, a Google file management app was released for Chinese Internet users. And in July, Google released a “Guess The Sketch” game on WeChat, the main Chinese messaging and social media platform.

Google is yet to issue any public comment on its bid to relaunch its search engine in China.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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