Google’s parent company just pulled its latest product from China.
The parent company of Google and Youtube is one of the companies that can claim to have succeeded in penetrating almost every country in the world and sometimes even countries ruled by autocrats and dictators.
But some countries are still resisting Alphabet despite many efforts.
One of these countries is China, the world’s second largest economy. Relations between the Mountain View, Calif.-based group and Beijing have been fraught with tension.
Alphabet via Google arrived in China in 2005. But the search engine came up against competition from the local giant Baidu, but also from Chinese political power.
Initially based in Beijing, its headquarters were moved to Hong Kong in 2010 to move away from central power and the censorship it demands.
Two years later, Google defied Chinese authorities by voluntarily displaying a small notification each time a word censored by the regime risked disrupting research. But the system was abandoned a few months later without much noise.
Gradually, Google has become inaccessible throughout the country anyway. The company considered that Chinese censorship was a voluntary maneuver used by Beijing to favor local players like Baidu and Tencent.
In 2018, CEO Sundar Pichai wanted reconciliation with Beijing. At the time Google was working on a version of its search engine reserved for China. This version was compatible with the local censorship policy, by restricting access to certain information sites or by filtering keywords.
This project, known as “Dragonfly”, had been strongly criticized by both Google employees and human rights groups.
Google had finally abandoned the project after fierce opposition from the company’s privacy team, according to The Intercept. The decision was a setback for Pichai, who made the censored search engine one of his priorities at the time.
In 2020, Google swore it would no longer respond directly to requests for data from Hong Hong authorities after the Chinese government imposed a national security law that gave great surveillance powers to local authorities. The Hong Kong authorities were to go through the mutual legal assistance treaty signed with the United States in the future to obtain information on users of the group’s services.
End of Google Translate in China
In view of this tense context, it should therefore not be surprising to see that Google has just discontinued one of its latest services in the country.
Google Translate is no longer available in mainland China. Now Chinese-based users who type translate.google.cn are redirected to the Hong Kong Domain, or translate.google.com.hk, TheStreet found. This page is not accessible to users in mainland China.
“We have discontinued Google Translate in mainland China due to low usage,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Google Translate has been a hit in China so far. According to the South China Morning Post, the service received 53.5 million hits in August alone from mobile and deskstop users.
In addition, Fortune claims that Google invested in 2017 to accelerate the growth of this service in China, by launching a mobile app.
The decision to end Google Translate in China marks the failure of the tech giant’s bid to re-enter the world’s biggest internet market.
It also comes at a time when tensions are at their highest between China and Washington over tech groups and technologies such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence.