Google plans to launch the China version of its Google Play smartphone app store in 2016, according to a Reuters report that cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter. According to the source, the Chinese Google Play would be set up specifically for China and not connected to overseas versions of Google Play. The U.S. internet giant plans to comply with Chinese laws on filtering content that might be viewed as sensitive by the ruling Communist Party, as well as with laws requiring the company to store its app store’s data within China. Google will use the app store to place other products and services in China, said two people familiar with Google’s plans. Google has scheduled its Google Play launch in China some time after Chinese New Year in February 2016 and before early summer, the same sources added. Google hopes that Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat platform will be among the payment options for the Chinese Google Play, according to a person familiar with company strategy.
China is the world’s largest mobile market, with nearly 1.3 billion phones in use. As such it represents a massive opportunity for app sales that Google clearly does not intend to pass up. While explicit approval from the Chinese government is not required for Google to launch Google Play, compliance with pertinent regulations is necessary if the enterprise is to go forward. By agreeing to filter content, store all relevant data within China and disconnect Chinese Google Play from the Google Play available in the rest of the world, Google is ensuring its access to the Chinese market. However, it may also, in effect, be making a deal with the devil. Aside from the moral and political issues arising from a de facto endorsement of anti-democratic policies, Google’s willingness to abide by Chinese restrictions on freedom of expression—at least as far as apps are concerned—may end up by tarnishing its image in other countries where Google does business. For a company with a deep dependence on the general public and whose slogan is “don’t be evil,” this decision could conceivably be quite damaging. Whether any such damage would outweigh the revenue gains in China, of course, remains to be seen.