Google is developing a version of its search engine that will conform to China's censorship laws, reports say. The company shut down the engine in 2010, complaining that free speech was being limited. But online news site The Intercept says Google has being working on a project code-named Dragonfly that will block terms like human rights and religion, a move sure to anger activists. One state-owned newspaper in China, Securities Daily, dismissed the report. "We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com," it said.
In 2010, Google made a moral calculus. The company had been censoring search results in China at the behest of the Communist government since launching there in 2006. But after a sophisticated phishing attack to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google decided to stop censoring results, even though it cost the company access to the lucrative Chinese market. Across nearly a decade, Google's decision to weigh social good over financial profit became part of Silicon Valley folklore, a handy anecdote that cast the tech industry as a democratizing force in the world. But to tech giants with an insatiable appetite for growth, China's allure is just as legendary.
Google is reportedly going to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. The tech giant has been secretly planning to launch the product since last year, as part of a project referred to inside the company as'Dragonfly,' according to The Intercept, which was given internal documents from a whistleblower. It comes as Google has tried and failed to make inroads in the Chinese market over the past several years. Google has been planning to launch the product since last year, as part of a project referred to inside the company as'Dragonfly.' While China is home to the world's largest number of internet users, a 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that the country had the most restrictive online use policies of 65 nations it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.
If you're not sure whether algorithmic bias could derail your plan, you should be. Megan Garcia (@meganegarcia) is a senior fellow and director of New America California, where she studies cybersecurity, AI, and diversity in technology. Algorithmic bias--when seemingly innocuous programming takes on the prejudices either of its creators or the data it is fed--causes everything from warped Google searches to barring qualified women from medical school. It doesn't take active prejudice to produce skewed results (more on that later) in web searches, data-driven home loan decisions, or photo-recognition software. It just takes distorted data that no one notices and corrects for.
Most of the world's Internet-connected netizens know of Google through its wildly popular consumer-facing products like its search engine and YouTube video hosting platform. Yet, Google's parent company Alphabet also operates a fascinating "think/do tank" called Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas) that asks "How can technology make the world safer?" Jigsaw is involved in an incredible array of projects from fighting hate speech with deep learning to making the world's constitutions searchable (a project I personally was heavily involved in, building the technology infrastructure that was used to acquire, digitize, version and codify thousands of constitutions and amendments dating back more than 200 years). Yet, one project of particular interest in today's world of botnet-enabled mass DDOS attacks on free speech and the evolution of cyberwarfare is Jigsaw's Project Shield, which offers free DDOS protection for news, human rights and elections monitoring websites, powered by Google's own global infrastructure. To most of us, distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks are something we read about in the news periodically when one of our favorite websites goes down.
Around midnight one Saturday in January, Sarah Jeong was on her couch, browsing Twitter, when she spontane ously wrote what she now bitterly refers to as "the tweet that launched a thousand ships." The 28-year-old journalist and author of The Internet of Garbage, a book on spam and online harassment, had been watching Bernie Sanders boosters attacking feminists and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. In what was meant to be a hyper bolic joke, she tweeted out a list of political carica tures, one of which called the typical Sanders fan a "vitriolic crypto racist who spends 20 hours a day on the Internet yelling at women." The ill-advised late-night tweet was, Jeong admits, provocative and absurd--she even supported Sanders. But what happened next was the kind of backlash that's all too familiar to women, minorities, and anyone who has a strong opinion online. By the time Jeong went to sleep, a swarm of Sanders supporters were calling her a neoliberal shill. By sunrise, a broader, darker wave of abuse had begun. She received nude photos and links to disturbing videos. One troll promised to "rip each one of [her] hairs out" and "twist her tits clear off." The attacks continued for weeks. "I was in crisis mode," she recalls.