Google Shuts Down Translation Services in Mainland China

Google Shuts Down Translation Services in Mainland China

A phone with the Google logo against the red background and gold stars of the Chinese flag.

Google has long had a strained business relationship with China and, despite its best efforts, only captures just under 2% of the search market. Photo: fn.artworks (Shutterstock)

Folks in mainland China looking for the occasional garbled translation of foreign languages ​​will be out of luck, as Google announced over the weekend that it was retiring one of the few digital services it offers in the country.

Users on Reddit first noticed that the service was down late Friday. Attempts to access Google Translate’s old mainland China address are now redirected to the Hong Kong site. Bloomberg noted that the Hong Kong version of the site is inaccessible on the mainland without a VPN, marking Google’s move as an effective shutdown of the service.

Google made its translate feature available for China back in 2017, including a separate app that people in China can download.

Google didn’t immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but the company confirmed with multiple outlets that it had discontinued the service in China “due to low usage.” TechCrunch, which originally reported the news on Friday, noted that the hubbub surrounding the upcoming Chinese Communist Party National Congress, which would mark the third term of the country’s President Xi Jingping, has something to do with Google’s decision-making could. According to Investopedia, Google China owns less than 2% of the country’s online search pie.

What is displayed when you try to visit the Google Translate page on Google China.

What appears when you try to visit the Google Translate page on Google China. Screenshot: Google

It was a tough road for the US-based company to gain a foothold in China, not only because of market dominance from companies like Baidu and Alibaba, but also because Google was caught in the weeds of the Beijing government’s censorship policies. The search giant has reportedly suffered from state-sponsored hacks that stripped the company of its intellectual property and leaked the Gmail addresses of human rights activists. In 2010, Google announced that it would no longer give in to China’s censorship requests.

This stated policy could only last so long. In 2018, reports indicated that Google was planning to create a version of its search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, that would block Chinese citizens from seeing content their government didn’t want them to see. Google drew much criticism from free speech advocates, particularly as China heavily censored all news of brutal crackdowns in Tibet around the same time. According to a 2018 report by The Intercept, Dragonfly sparked skirmishes within Google’s internal teams, and the company eventually scrapped its China relaunch plans.

Google has subsequently struggled to maintain a presence in the Chinese market while balancing calls for the company to resist censorship. Google, along with other big tech companies, refused to hand over user data to Hong Kong police after China seized control of the island. In April this year, Google censored new Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee’s YouTube channel due to US sanctions. The US said Lee was instrumental in suppressing free speech in Hong Kong.