The search giant might finally be ready to once again try its luck in the dragon’s territory. Insider sources claim that Google will be launching a version of the Google Play Store customized specifically for China and its censorship requirements. If true, this would be the first time Google would be making available one of its products in the Chinese market since 5 years ago, not only sending a message about how important that market is, but also showing what it’s willing to do to get there.
In this case, it’s willing to apply censorship to the digital content available from Google Play Store in China. This is a U-turn from the stance that Google took in 2010 when it shutdown its Chinese-specific services because it refused to self-censor its search results. Now, however, it is willing to give the Chinese government influence on what kind of apps make it into the store. Probably ones that have less potential for being used by dissidents.
To some extent, it’s hard to blame Google for now making a compromise. The Chinese smartphone market has long been a utopia for many tech companies in the West. Even Apple made a few concessions to develop rapport with government and its citizens. Google’s practical exit from that market left it vulnerable and allowed major rivals, like Baidu and Xiaomi, to get the upper hand.
But Google’s real competitors might not be those legit companies. China is notorious for piracy, and that applies to apps as well. There are myriad ways to get free access to apps normally unavailable to users of that region, either because of price or regional restrictions. A censored, limited Google Play Store might be a hard sell in this situation.
But if Google does succeed, Play Store will just be its opening salvo. People close to the matter say that Google is preparing to launch a second product right after but hasn’t yet decided what that product is. Industry observers believe that Google needs to bring back Search in order to make a significant impact, as it is the service that ties many of its other products, like YouTube or Android, together. That said, it might also be the most problematic, as it is the most politically sensitive of Google’s products.