“Public Square” has always evolved with every change in how we get information. Town criers yelling in the middle of a town were replaced by books, then newspapers, radio, TV and now, the Internet. An effective mean of communication, the Internet has practically allowed the public square to explode. Everyone can now be a voice which can be heard by others. But as the Internet has matured in the last 20 something years, the public square has almost been monopolized. You may be a voice which needs to be heard, but the way you are going to reach an audience is really in the control of just less than 5 companies. You can’t be a voice worth hearing if you aren’t on any of the big social media sites, have a podcast/video on YouTube or if your name doesn’t pop up when someone Googles it.
The services these companies offer are so intertwined in the daily functioning of an average human being that chances are most of you who are reading this are currently using the Chrome Browser, a service offered by one such company, Google. Anything you have looked up or seen on the internet, you probably used one of Google’s many services to do so.
However, this is not true for the people of China, the only place on Earth where Google doesn’t operate. Google tried expanding to this virtually untapped oil well of a market with a 10-digit population back in 2006, but the Chinese had a set of rules which Google had to comply by, censor any information which makes their government look bad (something existing websites in China were already doing). Google wasn’t fine with this and left the Chinese market in 2010, sacrificing profits for the sake of morals.
“Don’t be Evil” was Google’s motto at the time and they practiced something they preached. But now it seems like those profits and a vast market of potential users was a bit too much to shy away from. In 2018, Google decided to go back into China and this business move was termed as “Project Dragonfly”. According to Google, through Project Dragonfly, they are attempting to bring the outside world into China through services which the Chinese sites can never match. In reality though, what Google really has done is to just simply come back to China under the guidelines set by the authoritarian government of China.
China is infamous for media censorship. The Chinese government is so good at it that most citizens are not aware of the Tiananmen Square massacre which cost the lives of thousands of civilians by the hands of their own military. Other Subjects which are also famously censored are anything pertaining to the Taiwanese or Tibetan independence and even how the Chinese President resembles the famous cartoon character, Winnie the Pooh (yes that’s actually a thing, look it up on GOOGLE if you have to).
The Chinese government doesn’t just want to suppress the information of what they have done but also of what they are still doing. According to recent reports, China has imprisoned around 1 million Uighur Muslims in “re-education” camps in the hopes of suppressing religious extremism which was rampant in the western parts of China. This is something which all Chinese websites are censoring due to the government guidelines and Google is expected to as well when it comes to China. The Chinese government cracks down on any sort of “wrong think” by monitoring almost every Chinese civilian and the actions which raise red flags can range anywhere between practicing certain religions, preaching about extremism to even
growing a beard or quitting drinking. This is something which this government will probably keep practicing until there is no more “wrong think”.
China is also famous for implementing a form of social credit system, which is basically a reputation system which rewards or punishes the people of China depending on their actions. According to the guidelines, Google is expected to provide the search results of civilians to the government which will be utilised for this authoritarian credit system as well. Rest in peace individual privacy.
In 2018, many had protested against Project Dragonfly because Google would basically be condoning such authoritarian activities and even helping the government with them till some extent.
After a while, due to bad press, Google had decided not to go ahead with Project Dragonfly but officially they stated that they wouldn’t expand to China right now.
However, according to a recent report by The Intercept, Google employees (most of who are also not in support of Google expanding to China) believe that their company is still working on the codes which were planned to be used for Project Firefly but while being under the radar to not attract bad press again.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO since 2015, has been overtly showing a strong desire to launch search engine again in China, viewing the censorship as a worthwhile trade-off to gain access to the country’s vast internet users. He may now be waiting for the controversy around Dragonfly to die down before quietly resurrecting the plan again.
This article is not about bashing Google or the Government of China, its purpose is to remind others of the fact that the information we consume and share is completely controlled by conglomerates and conglomerates to operate based on numbers. Doesn’t matter what their corporate code of conduct says, the numbers say that 1.3 billion potential users (nearly 20 percent of the entire human population) are not making use of their services.