alphabet (Google) is present in almost every major economy in the world.
The parent company of Google and Youtube is among the companies that can claim to have managed to penetrate almost every country in the world and sometimes even countries ruled by autocrats and dictators.
But some countries still resist Alphabet despite many efforts.
One of these countries is China, the second largest economy in the world. Relations between the Mountain View, California-based group and Beijing have been fraught with tension.
Alphabet via Google came to China in 2005. The search engine faced competition not only from local giant Baidu, but also from China’s political power.
Originally based in Beijing, its headquarters moved to Hong Kong in 2010 to break away from central power and the censorship it demands.
Two years later, Google defied Chinese authorities by voluntarily displaying a small notification whenever a word censored by the regime threatened to disrupt research. But the system was abandoned a few months later without much ado.
Little by little, Google has become inaccessible across the country anyway. The company believed that Chinese censorship was a voluntary maneuver 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 compliant with local censorship policy by restricting access to certain information pages or filtering keywords.
This project, known as “Dragonfly”, had been heavily criticized by both Google employees and human rights groups.
According to The Intercept, Google finally abandoned the project after fierce opposition from the company’s privacy team. The decision was a setback for Pichai, who made the censored search engine one of his priorities at the time.
In 2020, Google vowed it would no longer directly respond to data requests from Hong Kong authorities after the Chinese government enacted a national security law that gave local authorities broad surveillance powers. Hong Kong authorities should henceforth go through the mutual legal assistance agreement signed with the United States to obtain information on users of the group’s services.
End of Google Translate in China
Given this tense context, it should therefore come as no surprise that Google has just shut down one of its newest services in the country.
Google Translate is no longer available in mainland China. Now, China-based users typing 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 spokesman said in an emailed statement.
Google Translate has been a hit in China so far. The service garnered 53.5 million views from mobile and desktop users in August alone, according to the South China Morning Post.
Additionally, Fortune claims that Google invested in 2017 to accelerate the growth of this service in China by launching a mobile app.
The decision to shut down Google Translate in China marks the failure of the tech giant’s attempt to re-enter the world’s largest internet market.
It also comes at a time when tensions between China and Washington are at their highest over tech companies and technologies like semiconductors and artificial intelligence.