How our tests are done

We have been detecting which websites are blocked in China since February this year. Using our tool and contributions from our visitors, we've created the most complete database anywhere of what's blocked by the so-called Great Firewall of China, including 2200+ blocked websites and 200+ blocked searches. But how accurate is our data?

When a website is tested, it's always done by comparing the results of trying to access it from A) a computer outside China and B) a computer inside China. This way, a website that is simply not working is not labelled as blocked. A website that works when accessed outside of China but fails when tested from inside China, on the other hand, will be labelled as blocked.

This makes our data more accurate, but not perfect. Another difficulty is that the Great Firewall often changes temporarily. A given website that was previously accessible may be blocked for, say, 20 minutes. The opposite is also true. Blocked websites are sometimes temporarily accessible. Examples include Facebook (March 28, April 25) and YouTube (July 31, Aug 15 etc).

To tackle this particular challenge, our scripts always re-run testing of a website once more, after it's status has changed. In most cases, temporary changes are quickly detected and the websites are labelled correctly again. In some cases, however, if the change lasts somewhat longer, it may take up to a week for our system to re-label the website correctly. So, for example, Paypal was tested to be blocked twice on Aug 22. It's now accessible again. But it will take several days before our system automatically tests it again. Meanwhile, it's labelled as blocked.

We are continously working to improve our system and to increase the accuracy of our data. Meanwhile, please pay attention to the history of tests of any given website you are looking up. That should give you a good idea of whether a website is always blocked, almost always blocked, sometimes blocked or always accessible.

And if you find any other glitches in our system, please let us know. Thanks for your support.

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Wed, Mar 19, 2014

Bing Bests Baidu Censorship

Abstract

Independent research from Xia Chu has shown that, in addition to non-China content, Bing censors a vast amount of content that is hosted inside China and which is not censored by China-based internet companies like Baidu. After communicating our issues with Microsoft, Bing removed certain censorship rules (kudos to Bing), but much work remains to be done.

We recently called for Microsoft to release its transparency report for Bing (as have others - full disclosure, Rebecca sits on our advisory board).  Microsoft has yet to respond to this request. But Xia’s independent research of Bing’s China censorship policy could be regarded as a de facto transparency report for the search engine.

In this thorough study, the results of which we have verified, Xia examined Bing's SERP (search engine results page) for over 30,000 sensitive and nonsensitive query terms, and launched these queries from both inside and outside of China. Comparing and examining these results, plus querying with special search operators, reveals unprecedented detail on Bing's China filtering practices.

The main findings from Xia’s research include:

  • Bing has a list of “forbidden” terms where no results are shown. 139 such terms have been identified.

  • Bing has a blacklist of websites that it never shows to China users. 329 such websites are identified. (5 have been lifted after our communication with Microsoft.)

Thu, Feb 13, 2014

Setting Bing's Broken Record Straight

We can also now trace complicit Bing Chinese censorship back to 2009 as highlighted by Nicholas Kristof. It looks like Microsoft has indeed changed its censorship mechanism after our research made headlines this week. But Bing is still seriously flawed on two fronts: its algorithm favors pro-Chinese government websites by default on all search terms in simplified Chinese and their front end mistakenly delivers explicit censorship of search results on some search terms for users from all over the world.

Wed, Feb 12, 2014

No error here: Microsoft deploying Chinese censorship on global scale

Microsoft says: “The results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China”. This is simply not true.

Tue, Feb 11, 2014

Bing practicing Chinese censorship globally

Our latest research indicates that Microsoft’s search engine Bing is censoring English and Chinese language search on its home page in order to exclude certain results. We have also noticed that Bing is practicing subtle censorship with search results. In both instances, Bing is filtering out links and stories that the Chinese authorities would deem damaging.

Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Massive blocking of foreign media in China

After Tuesday’s report Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite by ICIJ, China blocked a number of major newspaper websites. All websites below were blocked after publishing copies of the original report. They're all listed as the publishing partners for “Chinaleaks” stories on ICIJ's website. The Great Firewall rarely blocks non-Chinese websites. Many of them have published the Chinese version of the report which probably explains the unusual development.

Newspaper

Main Language

Article

http://www.icij.org

English

Chinese

http://www.theguardian.com

English

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