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Google tracked banned words to refine rumored China search engine

It may have been studying these search terms for years.
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VCG via Getty Images

If Google is planning a search engine for China, how is it planning to obey the country's strict censorship laws from day one? By getting some practice in first, apparently. The Intercept has obtained documents reportedly showing that Google has been using 265.com, a hybrid information and search portal it acquired in 2008, as a "honeypot" that would help it develop a blacklist for search terms in China. Google has supposedly been collecting info about search queries, which technically redirect to Baidu, to see if they would be censored.

According to the report, Google has been using a tool nicknamed BeaconTower to see if the final destinations of these searches would survive the Great Firewall. If they didn't, Google would exclude them from the first page of results in its prototype Chinese search engine. The company wouldn't have to spend as much time wondering about what it's allowed to show, whether it's an ages-old objection (such as acknowledging the Tiananmen Square massacre) or something relatively recent, such as the disappearance of activist Dong Yaoqiong.

Google hasn't commented about these latest details, and previously declined to comment about the search engine citing policies against discussing "speculation." If this is accurate, though, it suggests that Google has been looking into a potential Chinese search engine for a long time -- even if its leadership has raised objections to the idea.

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