What just happened? One of the few remain Google services still available in mainland China, Google Translate, has been discontinued in the Asian nation, allegedly because hardly anyone was using it. The country’s dedicated website for Google Translate now redirects visitors to the Hong Kong version, which isn’t accessible from mainland China.
“We are discontinuing Google Translate in mainland China due to low usage,” Google said in a statement. But according to web analytics platform Similarweb (via the South China Morning Post), the Chinese Google Translate website recorded 53.5 million visits from desktop and mobile users combined in August.
Google has had a complex relationship with China over the years. A massive cyberattack combined with the copious government censorship internet users must contend with prompted the US firm to pull its search engine from China in 2010, just four years after officially entering the market. The move came soon after Google stopped censoring its services in the country, defying the government.
Google Translate was reintroduced to mainland China in 2017 following speculation that it was set to make a return. But it now joins Gmail, Chrome, and Search on the list of unavailable Google products in the country, much to the disappointment of users but doubtlessly bringing a smile to the face of VPN companies.
Despite the apparent animosity, there were reports in 2018 that Google had built a heavily-censored version of its search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, for the Chinese market that linked queries to phone numbers. It was also said to block certain forbidden subjects, including religion, human rights, and peaceful protests. The news brought plenty of pushback from Google employees, US politicians, and human rights campaigners, contributing to the project being shut down a few months later, ensuring it never saw the light of day.
Tensions between China and the US have been rising recently. Passing the Chips Act brought cries of discrimination from Chinese politicians, and US officials instructing Nvidia and AMD to stop selling their high-performance AI-focused GPUs to the country caused plenty of anger. The US has also been hitting China with export bans and sections, hindering plans to develop its domestic semiconductor market, and we recently heard of an unsuccessful China-based campaign that tried to influence the US midterms. But none of this has deterred Microsoft from increasing its presence in the country.