Update September 30, 2022, 6:48 PM ET: A Google spokesperson told londonbusinessblog.com via email that the company has discontinued Google Translate in mainland China “due to low usage.” Perhaps there were ulterior motives, but it is likely that there is some truth in the statement: in China, using Google services is a splinter from those of domestic tech giants like Baidu and Alibaba.
The original story follows.
Google seems to have access to Google Translate in parts of China, redirecting visitors to the Hong Kong domain, which is inaccessible from the mainland. According to users on Reddit and site archives viewed by londonbusinessblog.com, Google swapped the Google Translate interface at translate.google.cn at some point in the past 24 hours with a generic Google search page.
The change is: Reportedly to influence the translation features of apps such as KOReader, a document viewer, for users in China, as well as Chrome’s built-in translation functionality. Google did not respond to a request for comment; we’ll update this piece if we hear anything.
Google has a long and complicated relationship with the Chinese government. In 2006, the company entered the Chinese market with a version of its search engine that was subject to government censorship rules. But after state-sponsored hacks and government-ordered blockades on Google services in response to YouTube footage showing Chinese security forces beating Tibetans, Google shut down Google Search in the mainland and rerouted short searches through its uncensored Hong Kong domain.
Google has reportedly been investigating the relaunch of Google Search in China in 2018 and 2019 as part of a project codenamed Dragonfly, which allegedly censored the results and recorded users’ locations, as well as their Internet browsing histories. But those plans were scuttled after clashes within Google led by the company’s privacy team, according to to The Intercept.
In 2020, following the enactment of a national security law in Hong Kong that gave local authorities significantly expanded surveillance powers, Google said it would not respond directly to data requests from Hong Kong’s law enforcement authorities and instead give them a mutual legal assistance treaty with the US
Assuming it’s not a technical issue, disabling Google Translate on much of the mainland could be related to the upcoming National Congress of the Chinese Communist Partywhich takes place on October 16. The Chinese government has previously blocked Google services around major political events and politically sensitive anniversaries such as the Tiananmen Square massacre.