Is Google creating a search term blacklist ahead of its return to China?

Reports emerged a few days ago that Google was considering the creation of a search engine for China. The digital landscape in the country is by no means simple to navigate, not least because of the strict censorship laws it upholds.

The Intercept has revealed new details pulling back the curtain on the apparent development of the search engine tailored to the oppressive rules Chinese citizens experience online. A website called 265.com is a crucial piece in the puzzle.

How is Google using 265.com?

265.com is a Chinese-language web directory owned by Google and not blocked by the country’s so-called Great Firewall.

Founded by Cai Wensheng in 2003, Google purchased 265.com in 2008. The website provides news updates and details on financial markets, as well as ads for cheap flights or accommodation.

Crucially, search terms entered on 265.com redirect to China’s most popular search engine, Baidu.

Google can still apparently see the queries users are typing in and its researchers may be sampling these to develop a blacklist of websites for the company’s new project.

While 265.com lives on Google’s servers, it has a physical address in Beijing’s Haidian district.

The censored search engine project, dubbed Dragonfly, would block terms relating to topics such as the Tianenmen Square massacre. Blocked sites include Twitter, Pinterest and Reuters, among others.

In short, the company has supposedly been using 265.com as a market research resource to examine what Chinese users are searching for.

Employees are unhappy

After the news of Dragonfly spread throughout the company, management shut down access to related documents and employees at the search giant are apparently sharing tongue-in-cheek memes about China’s human rights record.

A group of six US senators is asking Google CEO Sundar Pichai whether a recent deal with Tencent is linked to the development of the search engine. The company’s leadership has yet to comment internally about the plans.

Google search on an iPad. Image: I AM NIKOM/Shutterstock

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