Google’s censored search engine might be gone, but here’s five other things it’s still doing in China
Google’s controversial Project Dragonfly might be on hold, but the company is still very much in China
Google’s plan to build a censored search engine in China might have ground to a halt. Engineers on the so-called Project Dragonfly are no longer allowed to view search queries from a decoy search engine set up in China, effectively pausing the venture, according to The Intercept.
A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the report, and instead referred the South China Morning Post to Sundar Pichai’s previous congressional testimony. Last week, the CEO said Google has no current plans to relaunch a search engine in China.
The development brings Google back to where it was in 2010, when it pulled its search engine out of mainland China. Since then, most Google services have been blocked in the country.
But it doesn’t mean that Google is entirely absent in China. Here’s five other ways Google is still present in the country.
Whether it’s Huawei or Xiaomi, smartphones made by Chinese manufacturers almost invariably run Android.
But the Android OS you see in China are quite different from what’s in the rest of the world. For one, Google Play is missing; instead, you’ll find individual app stores from the phone makers themselves, or Chinese tech giants like Tencent or Baidu. Plus, Android on Chinese handsets tends to be heavily customized to work well with popular local apps like WeChat -- but it can feel clumsy and unnatural to users outside the country.
Although the Google Play store is banned in China, plenty of Google apps are available on iOS and Chinese Android app stores. Most require a VPN (virtual private network) to work because they need connection to Google’s servers, but there are some exceptions.
Google Translate officially returned to China last year, and remains one of the most popular iOS translation apps in the country, according to data from App Annie. Earlier this year, Google followed up with a Chinese version of its file management app Files Go, which launched on several Chinese Android app stores.
Snapseed is another Google app with a Chinese following. Its photo editing features can function without access to Google’s servers, which means people can use it without scaling China’s Great Firewall.
Besides bringing existing apps to China, Google has also embraced local platforms. Tencent’s ubiquitous app WeChat carries Google’s Quick, Draw! -- a game that lets an AI guess what you’re doodling.
It comes in the form of a mini program: Think of it as a tiny app that lives within a bigger app. Each is smaller than 10MB, so you can launch them almost instantly from inside WeChat.
It’s not hard to see why Google might want a foot in the door of WeChat: The app has more than 1 billion monthly active users -- more than three times the population of the United States.
Also this year, Google spinoff Waymo set up a subsidiary in Shanghai. Official filings showed the business would cover design and testing of autonomous car parts and products, as well as various consulting services.
Google’s entrance comes as China is accelerating its push on self-driving cars. The government has declared smart cars a national priority and issued national guidelines for driverless cars. Google’s China rival Baidu, which was handpicked last year to lead the effort, rolled out its first fleet of driverless buses this year.
Google invested US$550 million into JD.com this year, in a partnership that will see products from the Chinese online shopping giant being promoted on Google’s shopping service. One of JD.com’s biggest backers happens to be Tencent, the creator of WeChat.