800 million Chinese use the Internet. For corporations like Google, the country could become a fate market.
However, the Internet companies from Silicon Valley are facing a problem: If they want to earn big money in China, they have to submit to censorship.
By Christoph Giesen, Beijing, and Hakan Tanriverdi
The ticket to the free Internet is white this year and as always check card size. Each one is numbered, the receipt must be acknowledged by signature. If you scratch the number and password on the back and enter that combination, you can go to any website in the world. You can read about what deserts tweets US President Donald Trump authored, log in to Facebook, and of course googling – in the middle of China. Ironically, in that country that unlike any other state keeps its citizens away from large parts of the earth-spanning internet. The place where the otherwise impossible was possible last week is called Wuzhen.
Once a year, the World Internet Conference meets in this picturesque water town, two hours' drive from Shanghai. Organizer is the Chinese state. For a few days, the tourists are banished, no one can be seen in the tea houses by the water, except a few state security officials who keep an eye on everything. Instead, handpicked visitors who drive to the events with golf carts to listen to what the leadership in Beijing is supposed to look like the Internet of the Future: regulated and severely censored.
Most guests are party cadres and employees of Chinese companies. But in between: one or two emissaries from far away Silicon Valley. Manager of Facebook or Google about. They want to understand how to penetrate this secluded world, the largest Internet market in the world. 800 million Chinese are online, almost all of them go mobile on the net. In the US there are not even 300 million users. Those who unlock China earn billions. The grandees from California try this with charm.
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example, publicly praises the books of state and party leader Xi Jinping, and regularly meets high-ranking officials. Twitter also tries to flatter Beijing: In China, the company hired a new manager who once worked for the People's Liberation Army. Their first tweet went to Chinese state television: "Let's work together to tell the world the great China story!"
However, no other company is as concerned with the China issue as Google. For the search engine corporation, the People's Republic could become a fateful market. Participate and be censored? Or stay out and uphold your own values? The group is split.
Until recently, Jack Poulson worked at Google's headquarters in Mountain View. As a programmer, he wrote algorithms whose purpose is to understand the essence of search queries. For example, if a user asks about the weather in Munich, Google has to make assumptions about whether the weather is in focus, the city, or both. Such assumptions must work reliably even with significantly more complex queries across multiple languages. One of these languages should be Chinese. "It eventually clicked," says Poulson. In the summer, the first media reported a screened Google home team developing a search app for the Chinese market since the beginning of 2017. The name: Dragonfly.
Apart from the team itself, only a small circle of the 88,000 employees knew about Google. The app should be subject to the strict requirements of the Chinese authorities. Terms such as "Nobel Prize" (A reference to Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody in 2017), "Human Rights" and "Student Protests" (1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre) are censored. The authorities in China are said to have received Dragonfly already demonstrated. Also on a second app – for news – should have been gewerkelt. Also these chinese censored accurately.