Gmail now 45 times slower than QQ, 8 times slower than Yahoo

Many people in China are experiencing problems accessing their Gmail these days. The website hasn't (yet) been blocked outright, in the sense that Facebook.com, Twitter.com etc are blocked. Instead, the Great Firewall and the masters behind it seem to try to make Gmail slow and partially blocked, as our monitoring confirms. Average download speed of Gmail in China is now 45 times slower than QQ as shown in this diagram (for more comparisons, see our new Guanxi index).

Some people are wondering whether the problems are caused by Google or the Great Firewall. Google has denied that the problem lies with their service, adding that "this is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail". Though the Chinese government has protested its innoncence, our automatic monitoring of Gmail confirms Google's view. All our tests are verified by also accessing the website from a server outside China, and Gmail has not had any problems when accessed elsewhere. In China though, it's lately been partially blocked and usually very slow.

Thinking of switching to another email provider?

Yahoo seems to be fairing much better than their other foreign competitors at this point. Perhaps it's related to their prior collaboration with Chinese authorities over jailing dissidents. If this is not an issue to you, switching to Yahoo might be an option. Whatever option you go for, make sure that the URL you're starts with "https://", and not "http://". A single "s" makes all the difference to the Great Firewall. HTTPS, or encrypted connections, mean that the Firewall cannot know what you are reading and writing - if there's no "s" everything is open to inspection by big brother.

Switching email providers is a hassle for many reasons though - you lose your old messages, your contacts and you have to inform your friends of your new address. If you want to continue to use Gmail you might want to consider a VPN, which will let you completely bypass the Great Firewall.

What about VPN's?

Some VPN services have also been targeted recently and been disrupted on and off. You can check out our Tools section for an overview. Some are completely blocked whereas others are slow or fully available. Please note that the statistics for the VPN services on this page only refer to access to their main website - and may not be an accurate indicator of the actual VPN service.

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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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Comments

<p>Just read <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/03/28/China.blogger.mao/in... the 'Great Firewall': China's 'first blogger' speaks out</a>. Some comments on the Gmail situation by Isaac Mao:</p><p>The problems with Google's Gmail service in China is Beijing's way "to test the tolerance of the people".</p><p>"I think the Chinese government is trying to slow down people's communication, and is trying to slow down the speed of information flow in China," Mao told CNN in an interview with Kristie Lu Stout. "They cannot block Gmail totally, at this moment, because millions of people are using Gmail. If it is found that the government did this, people will react even more."</p>

There may be more to this than mere harassment: deep packet inspection and experiments in upgraded filtering methods. Iran seems to be well ahead if the Chinese in this, but it seems that the Great Firewall is on the cusp of a great enhancement.

As demand for more open and free society grows, so does the censorship...

The question raised by objectivity is how innocence, traditionally understood to be a state of ignorance

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