The company sampled searches from a Beijing-based website to hone its blacklists.
Engineers working on the censorship sampled search queries from 265.com, a Chinese-language web directory service owned by Google.
Unlike Google.com and other Google services, such as YouTube, 265.com is not blocked in China by the country’s so-called Great Firewall, which restricts access to websites deemed undesirable by the ruling Communist Party regime.
265.com was founded in 2003 by Cai Wensheng, a Chinese entrepreneur known as the “the godfather of Chinese webmasters.” In 2008, Google acquired the website, which it now operates as a subsidiary. Records show that 265.com is hosted on Google servers, but its physical address is listed under the name of the “Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co.,” which is based out of an office building in northwest Beijing’s Haidian district.
265.com provides news updates, links to information about financial markets, and advertisements for cheap flights and hotels. It also has a function that allows people to search for websites, images, videos, and other content. However, search queries entered on 265.com are redirected to Baidu, the most popular search engine in China and Google’s main competitor in the country.
It appears that Google has used 265.com as a de facto honeypot for market research, storing information about Chinese users’ searches before sending them along to Baidu. Google’s use of 265.com offers an insight into the mechanics behind its planned Chinese censored search platform, code-named Dragonfly, which the company has been preparing since spring 2017.
After gathering sample queries from 265.com, Google engineers used them to review lists of websites that people would see in response to their searches. The Dragonfly developers used a tool they called “BeaconTower” to check whether the websites were blocked by the Great Firewall. They compiled a list of thousands of websites that were banned, and then integrated this information into a censored version of Google’s search engine so that it would automatically manipulate Google results, purging links to websites prohibited in China from the first page shown to users. Read the rest of this entry »