Billionaire investor Peter Thiel this week accused the U.S. technology giant of working with the Chinese military and called for the U.S. government to investigate Google. In response, President Donald Trump said his administration will “take a look” into Google.
The tech giant has denied working with the Chinese military.
Still, the controversy has sparked interest in what Google is doing in China. CNBC took a closer look at Google’s business dealings in China.
Google ended its search product in China in 2010 and is effectively blocked in the country. However, a report emerged last year that the search giant was looking to launch a censored version of its search app in China. The initiative, which the company acknowledged publicly, was in its early stages. In China, all internet services are required to censor information which the government deems sensitive.
However, Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy at the company, Karan Bhatia, said this week that Google had abandoned plans for “Project Dragonfly,” the name of its China search product initiative.
So right now, Google is still blocked in China and can only be accessed via a virtual private network (VPN), which helps mask a user’s internet location.
One of Thiel’s accusations is that Chinese spies have infiltrated Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) projects, but he did not provide any evidence.
Google does have AI projects in China though. In 2017, the company opened up an AI research center in China.
On its website, Google says AI research in China is focused on education and so-called natural language understanding — which refers to an AI technique focused on getting machines to understand human language. Google is looking to apply AI to auctioning so that the bidding process for ads can be more efficient. This could be important for Google, which operates an advertising marketplace.
In China, the work is also contributing to AI products that Google makes available globally, such as TensorFlow. This is an open source library that can help other companies develop AI products.
Technology giants such as Alibaba and Tencent dominate the cloud market in China. So Google’s tactic is to try to sell its cloud products to Chinese firms that have international operations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
A search of Google job postings in China showed the company is looking for cloud computing engineers, data managers, sales and business development roles across Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The company is also hiring people to target customers in specific industries — from media and entertainment to manufacturing.
Google sells a number of hardware products including smartphones, smart speakers and thermostats, under the Nest brand that it owns. Some of that is manufactured in China.
The company is currently advertising roles for engineers to test products and for manufacturing and supply chain managers. On LinkedIn, a number of Google employees in Shenzhen, a key technology hub in China, listed their jobs as hardware-related.
However, Bloomberg reported in June that Google was moving the production of some Nest thermostats and server hardware out of China to avoid tariffs from the U.S.
The Google Play Store, the company’s app store, is blocked in China. So Google is trying to work with app developers in China to help them bring their products onto the Play Store in international markets.
Under its job listings, Google advertised for two roles for a business development manager related to the play store.
“As a Business Development Manager of Google Play, you will empower developers to build successful businesses on Play/Android globally, and inspire the ecosystem to innovate on/invest in Android and Play,” the job description reads.
Google also has individual roles for the gaming section of the Google Play store. Games are a huge part of its app store.
Advertising is a core part of Google’s revenue but because its services are blocked in China, it can’t really sell ads on those platforms there. So the company focuses on Chinese businesses looking to advertise on Google platforms abroad, whether that is on its search engine, YouTube or something else.
One job that’s being advertised is for a business development consultant in Shanghai who will be “responsible for driving business growth and attracting new medium to large size advertisers for Google.” There are also people focused on getting advertisers from specific industries like retail or entertainment.
Overall, Google’s business in China is mostly aimed at getting Chinese companies to use its products outside of China.