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Citing ‘Low Usage’, Google Shuts Down Translate Services in Mainland China

Published: October 3, 2022
This photo taken on Aug. 26, 2019 shows people gathering at a Google booth during the 2019 Smart China Expo in China's southwestern Chongqing. Google has shut down translation services in mainland China after close to two decades of trying to meet Communist China’s censorship policies. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

On Oct. 3 Alphabet’s Google said it has shut down Google Translate services in mainland China citing low usage, but many speculate that the tech giant halted the service due to its inability to meet Beijing’s stringent censorship rules. 

Google said in a statement, “We are discontinuing Google Translate in mainland China due to low usage,” according to TechCrunch who first reported the suspension. 

Mainland Chinese users, attempting to use Google Translate, are now directed to a static image of a generic Google search bar, and a link to the company’s Hong Kong-based domain.

In 2017, Google introduced a Chinese mobile app of Google Translate and even employed the services of Chinese-American rapper, MC Jin, to advertise the service to Chinese users. At the time Chinese users could download the app without using a virtual private network (VPN). At the time Google said it hoped mainland Chinese could “discover a world without language barriers.”

Google has struggled for decades to service the mainland Chinese market. The company pulled its search engine from the communist state in 2010 due to government censorship and the company’s widely used services, including Google Maps and Gmail, have also been effectively blocked by the Chinese authorities. 

In 2006, Google attempted to limp into the Chinese market with a censored version of Google Search however failed to attract users from local competitors like Baidu.

The lack of Google services on the mainland has propelled domestic services like search engine Baidu and social media gaming giant Tencent to a dominant position in the Chinese internet landscape. 

As such, Google has an extremely limited presence in China. The only way mainland Chinese can access much of Google’s services is through a VPN.

There has also been a recent shift  in the production of the company’s smartphones as well. Some of the production of the company’s Pixel smartphones have been shifted from China to Vietnam, according to a recent report by the New York Times.

Despite this, Google is attempting to get Chinese developers to develop apps for its Android operating system to distribute via the Google Play Store, however the Play Store is blocked in China. 

In 2018, Google did attempt to reenter the Chinese market with its search engine, however the plans were scrapped following backlash by both its employees and politicians.