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Google is reportedly planning to bring its search engine back to China in the form of an Android app, according to documents leaked to The Intercept. The company's flagship product previously operated in China from 2006 to 2010 before being pulled under a firestorm of criticism that Google was complicit in the country's vast censorship apparatus.

Just a few weeks ago, Google was forced to back off of a drone program that it had developed with the Pentagon, after thousands of its own employees openly protested against the project.

At the time, Google staffers wrote an open letter to company CEO Sundar Pichai, which read in part, "We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google's stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google's reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values."

The anonymous source's statements to The Intercept struck a similar tone: "I'm against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what's being done is in the public interest...What is done in China will become a template for many other nations."

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The documents leaked by The Intercept did not reveal specific motivations behind Google's search engine decision, but there are some pertinent facts to consider: China is now home to 1.38 billion people, and the vast majority of Chinese phone users are on Android -- Google's own operating system -- with deep integrations into its search engine, AI, email service, cloud storage, and other products.

But since 2010, Google's search engine has been actively blocked by the Great Firewall -- the Internet filter created by the Chinese government to combat external political influences. As a result of this firewall, the vast majority of Chinese citizens are said to be largely unaware of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

As a result of Google's absence, Baidu is the dominant search engine in China, and approved by its government. Given the size of its audience, this represents a potential missed opportunity for Google's revenue and brand awareness.

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According to the leaked documents, Sundar Pichai has been negotiating with China since spring of last year, and the necessary concessions will be similar to the censorship that Google grappled with in its previous four-year stint; banned websites, books, topics, and images will be absent from search results, with the only explanation being "Some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements." In some cases, the user will only get a blank page.

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  1. According to leaked documents obtained by The Intercept, Google is bringing its search engine back to China after an 8-year hiatus, in the form of an Android app.
  2. However, the search engine will be at least as censored as the version that Google provided from 2006 to 2010.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.