Speaking at Wired’s 25th anniversary summit in San Francisco, Pichai described the vast Chinese online market as “important for us to explore”, adding that a censored search function to comply with government restrictions online would serve “well over 99% of queries”, CNBC reports.
Google’s main search platform has been blocked in China since 2010, although many Chinese consumers bypass their government’s firewall and access it using a VPN (virtual private network).
A return to the country – confirmed as being planned under the code-name “Project Dragonfly” by Pichai – has been rumoured for several months, since a leak first reported by The Intercept.
Pichai said Dragonfly was still in its early stages. “We wanted to learn what it would look like if Google were in China, so that’s what we built internally.
“If Google would operate in China, what would it look like? What queries would we be able to serve? It turns out we’d be able to serve well over 99 percent of queries and there are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what's available.”
The Intercept now reports that a coalition of 14 human rights groups are calling on Google to reconsider launching a self-censoring search engine, saying it would be “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights”.
In his comments at the Wired summit, Pichai also appeared to take a swipe at China’s own leading search engine, Baidu, the South China Morning Post reports. He specifically talked about fake cancer treatments being returned in search results, a problem that Baidu has had in the past.
News of a likely return to China by Google hit Baidu shares, with Reuters reporting a 7.7% drop, despite the company posting better-than-expected quarterly results.
This year, Google has been working on several projects in China aside from Project Dragonfly. In January, it invested in Chushou, a live-streaming mobile game platform, and earlier this month launched an AI game on the ubiquitous social media app WeChat, owned by Tencent.
Sourced from CNBC, The Intercept, South China Morning Post, Reuters; additional content by WARC staff