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Google seems to be sitting on an ethical seesaw

Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) unit Google is looking to re-enter China and reportedly has plans to launch a search engine in the country, which in compliance with the nation’s censorship laws, will block sensitive search results. Recall that Google has previously had its share of ethical conflicts with China as the country’s censorship rules do not go hand-in-hand with the tech giant’s open internet policy.

Back in 2006, Google launched its search engine in China but it had to comply with tough censorship laws. Google removed specific search results but notified its users that their results were being filtered. In 2010, following a hacking incident, Google stopped its search service in China, and currently, the company’s search, Gmail and YouTube platforms are blocked in the country through the Great Firewall, a prominent national censorship tool.

Now Google is being blamed for agreeing to comply with China’s unreasonable censorship policies to get through to a large customer base. It is said that the new search app will block sensitive information and present a disclaimer stating the removal of results due to legal requirements.

China is a lucrative market with millions of internet and smartphone users and a vast e-commerce customer base. It offers revenue opportunities that are becoming increasingly difficult for US companies to overlook. Google too has an opportunity and a competitive advantage over existing tech companies in China to gain market share.

Google has to decide between massive money-making projects on the one hand and its ethical customs on the other hand

It would make good business sense for Google to re-enter China as it will give the firm a chance to introduce more of its products, such as its hardware devices and cloud platform, into the market, as well as gain good revenues from advertising, another major revenue stream. The company’s main competitor in China is Baidu.

Google is also making other efforts to bolster its Chinese connection. In June, the company entered into an investment partnership with Chinese e-commerce company JD.com. However, launching in China would come with its own share of difficulties, which include dealing with the country’s difficult laws and also having to make changes to its products to adhere to these policies.

The news of Google’s new Chinese search app has not gone down well with several parties, including its own employees. Critics believe Google is likely to end up aiding the Chinese government in more intrusive activities.

Google appears to have found itself on an ethical seesaw of sorts on more than one instance in recent times. In other words, the company has to decide between massive money-making projects on the one hand and its ethical customs on the other hand. Earlier this year, Google employees protested against the company’s partnership with the Pentagon for a military drone project citing concerns over illegal surveillance.

It remains to be seen how far Google will go with its China plans considering the complications and criticism or whether it will back out thus giving importance to the opinions of its user base in the US and other Western countries.

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