British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said it is "extraordinary" that Google plans to launch a version of its search engine in China that will block some websites, but won't co-operate with western efforts to remove child abuse content.
"Seems extraordinary that Google is considering censoring its content to get into China but won't cooperate with UK, U.S. ... in removing child abuse content," Hunt said on Twitter. "They used to be so proud of being values-driven."
Alphabet's Google plans a search engine in China that will block some search terms and websites, two sources told Reuters earlier this month, in a move that could mark its return to a market it abandoned eight years ago on censorship concerns.
In a statement, Google said it has "been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China."
In the U.S., President Donald Trump and other conservatives have lobbed charges of censorship at Google and other U.S. tech companies, though they haven't provided evidence. On Tuesday, Trump claimed that Google had rigged search results about him "so that almost all stories & news is BAD." A top adviser said the White House is "taking a look" at whether Google should face federal regulation. The companies deny the accusations.
Google had previously complied with censorship controls starting in 2006 as it sought a toehold in the booming Chinese economy. But it exited the Chinese search market in 2010 under unrelenting pressure from human rights groups and some shareholders.
According to online news site The Intercept, Google created a custom Android app that will automatically filter out sites blocked by China's so-called "Great Firewall."
Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in the Soviet Union in 1973 and lived there until age 6 when his family fled. He has said his experience with a repressive regime shaped his and the company's views.
However, Pichai, who became CEO in 2015, has said he wants Google to be in China serving Chinese users.
In December, Google announced it was opening an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing, and in June, Google invested $550 million in JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce platform that is second only to Alibaba in the country. The companies said they would collaborate on retail solutions around the world without mentioning China, where Google services including Gmail and YouTube are blocked.