GreatFire July

News Sites Update

After Bloomberg was blocked in June, we are tracking whether other news websites will follow with great interest. Of particular interest is http://cn.nytimes.com - the Chinese version of the New York Times which was also launched in June. It has not yet been blocked. The Hong Kong edition of Yahoo! News was less lucky. http://hk.news.yahoo.com was blocked on July 3 and has stayed inaccessible in China since. Yahoo! China (http://cn.yahoo.com), which is hosted in China and operates under Chinese censorship regulations, is still working well though.

Bye-bye Slideshare

http://www.slideshare.net was blocked on July 11 and has stayed blocked since. This is the first time that Slideshare has been permantently blocked since we started monitoring access to it from China in March, 2011.

High-Profile Censorship On Weibo

任志强 , CEO of one of the largest real estate company in China, member of the CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) and a Weibo profile with 9 million followers had his account temporarily blocked after posting tweets about the Beijing floods. He was unblocked shortly after. Less lucky was the US Consulate in Shanghai whose Weibo account was permanently shut down (full story). 

Censored Video Games

Some insiders reported on Baidu that video games without a special license from Chinese authority will be taken down from any website. The original story has since been deleted but a copy is shown here to the right. The game Political Machine 2008 was blocked on Weibo (weibo: 政治机器2008) though the similar terms weibo: 政治机器 and weibo: 政治机器2012 were not. We can't wait for the day the Chinese polical power struggles become a video game too.

Additionally, the online marketplace Taobao added to the censorship by not allowing any searches for the game Diablo (暗黑3暗黑破坏神diablo). Unlike the likes of Sina Weibo and Baidu, though, they don't admit to censoring but instead only display a message that nothing could be found.

More Glitches In The System

At around 11:00 pm on July 16 and 10:30 pm on July 31, the Great Firewall stopped some of its so called DNS poisoning. On both occasions, the DNS poisoning was back within a few hours. But for the duration of the incidents, it was possible to get correct IP addresses for high-profile blocked websites such as http://www.facebook.com and http://www.twitter.com. Most would still be inaccessible, though, since they are also blocked by IP addresses and by keyword filtering.

Another incident was that China Telecom users were unable to access any foreign websites from about 10:20 am to 10:40 am on July 27. Other ISPs such as China Unicom did not seem to be affected. This follows a similar outage in April this year, though this time it lasted for a shorter time period. Also it seemed to be more complete this time around, seemingly blocking all types of traffic to foreign servers.

Keywords Blocked

These keywords were not blocked in China before July 2012. From sometime in July and onwards, they have all been blocked. A total of 15 new keywords that we track were blocked in July, which compares to 231 keywords that were blocked in June.

  1. google: bloomberg
  2. google: 买通gov做靠山
  3. weibo: chen xi
  4. weibo: dafengqixi
  5. weibo: guo boxiong
  6. weibo: xijingping
  7. weibo: xizang
  8. weibo: 晚自习后
  9. weibo: 胡77
  10. weibo: 胡佳_(社活動家)
  11. weibo: 胡萝卜
  12. weibo: 警车被掀翻
  13. weibo: 阿扁对小胡
  14. weibo: 黄海ci胡

Keywords Unblocked

These keywords were all blocked in China before July 2012. From sometime in July and onwards, they have all been unblocked. A total of 42 keywords that we track were unblocked in July, which compares to 24 keywords that were unblocked in June. 20 of them contain the number 64, which is a reference to the June 4 massacre of 1989. It indicates that any mentioning of that event was deemed particularly sensitive around the time of the anniversary.

  1. weibo: 426社论
  2. weibo: 6420
  3. weibo: 64之 后
  4. weibo: 64之后
  5. weibo: 64之役
  6. weibo: 64二十周年
  7. weibo: 64历史
  8. weibo: 64历史
  9. weibo: 64平反
  10. weibo: 64式手枪
  11. weibo: 64手抢
  12. weibo: 64手枪
  13. weibo: 64旁见
  14. weibo: 64死难
  15. weibo: 64母亲
  16. weibo: 64真像
  17. weibo: 64纪念
  18. weibo: 64血案
  19. weibo: 64血腥
  20. weibo: 64诗集
  21. weibo: 64遇难
  22. weibo: GC党
  23. weibo: bbc
  24. weibo: gongchan当
  25. weibo: gongchan挡
  26. weibo: renquan
  27. weibo: ren权
  28. weibo: 丁关根
  29. weibo: 党下台
  30. weibo: 八大
  31. weibo: 占领重庆
  32. weibo: 发票代理
  33. weibo: 夜袭珍珠港美人受惊
  34. weibo: 宗教 迫害
  35. weibo: 暴动
  36. weibo: 朝鲜+兵变
  37. weibo: 枪声
  38. weibo: 法会
  39. weibo: 猥亵
  40. weibo: 盲人
  41. weibo: 纪念64
  42. weibo: 自焚

Foreign Websites Getting Faster

When we started monitoring websites in March, 2011, the average download speed of an Alexa Top 500 website not hosted in China was less than 13 kilobytes per second. As you can see in this graph, since then it's steadily increased and now stands at almost 18 kilobytes per second. This is still slow of course, but at least it's going in the right direction. Here's the source data.

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Mon, Aug 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire Appmaker

GreatFire (https://en.greatfire.org/), a China-focused censorship monitoring organization, is proud to announce that we have developed and released a new anti-censorship tool that will enable any blocked media outlet, blogger, human rights group, or civil society organization to evade censors and get their content onto the phones of millions of readers and supporters in China and other countries that censor the Internet.

GreatFire has built an Android mobile app creator, called “GreatFire AppMaker”, that can be used by organizations to unblock their content for users in China and other countries. Organizations can visit a website (https://appmaker.greatfire.org/) which will compile an app that is branded with the organization’s own logo and will feature their own, formerly blocked content. The app will also contain a special, censorship-circumventing web browser so that users can access the uncensored World Wide Web. The apps will use multiple strategies, including machine learning, to evade advanced censorship tactics employed by the Chinese authorities.  This project will work equally well in other countries that have China-like censorship restrictions. For both organizations and end users, the apps will be free, fast, and extremely easy to use.

This project was inspired by China-based GreatFire’s first-hand experience with our own FreeBrowser app (https://freebrowser.org/en) and desire to help small NGOs who may not have the in-house expertise to circumvent Chinese censorship. GreatFire’s anti-censorship tools have worked in China when others do not. FreeBrowser directs Chinese internet users to normally censored stories from the app’s start page (http://manyvoices.news/).

Fri, Jul 24, 2020

Apple, anticompetition, and censorship

On July 20, 2020, GreatFire wrote to all 13 members of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting a thorough examination into Apple’s practice of censorship of its App Store, and an investigation into how the company collaborates with the Chinese authorities to maintain its unique position as one of the few foreign tech companies operating profitably in the Chinese digital market.  

This letter was sent a week before Apple CEO TIm Cook will be called for questioning in front of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. The CEOs of Amazon, Google and Facebook will also be questioned on July 27, as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into competition in the digital marketplace.

This hearing offers an opportunity to detail to the Subcommittee how Apple uses its closed operating ecosystem to not only abuse its market position but also to deprive certain users, most notably those in China, of their right to download and use apps related to privacy, secure communication, and censorship circumvention.

We hope that U.S. House representatives agree with our view that Apple should not be allowed to do elsewhere what would be considered as unacceptable in the U.S. Chinese citizens are not second class citizens. Private companies such as Apple compromise themselves and their self-proclaimed values of freedom and privacy when they collaborate with the Chinese government and its censors.

Mon, Jun 10, 2019

Apple Censoring Tibetan Information in China

Apple has a long history of censorship when it comes to information about Tibet. In 2009, it was revealed that several apps related to the Dalai Lama were not available in the China App Store. The developers of these apps were not notified that their apps were removed. When confronted with these instances of censorship, an Apple spokesperson simply said that the company “continues to comply with local laws”.

In December, 2017, at a conference in China, when asked about working with the Chinese authorities to censor the Apple App Store, Tim Cook proclaimed:

"Your choice is: do you participate, or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be. And my own view very strongly is you show up and you participate, you get in the arena because nothing ever changes from the sideline."

In the ten years since Apple was first criticized for working with the Chinese authorities to silence already marginalized voices, what has changed? Apple continues to strictly follow the censorship orders of the Chinese authorities. When does Tim Cook expect that his company will help to bring about positive change in China?

Based on data generated from https://applecensorship.com, Apple has now censored 29 popular Tibetan mobile applications in the China App Store. Tibetan-themed apps dealing with news, religious study, tourism, and even games are being censored by Apple. A full list of the censored apps appear below.

Thu, Jun 06, 2019

Report Shines Spotlight on Apple’s Censorship Practices in China

The newest Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index makes recommendations on what companies and governments need to do in order to improve the protection of internet users’ human rights around the world. Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) works to promote freedom of expression and privacy on the internet by creating global standards and incentives for companies to respect and protect users’ rights.

In their 2019 Accountability Index, RDR looks at the policies of 24 of the world’s most important internet companies in respect to freedom of expression and privacy and highlights the companies that have made improvements and those companies that need to do more. RDR notes that:

Insufficient transparency makes it easier for private parties, governments, and companies themselves to abuse their power over online speech and avoid accountability.

In particular, the report highlights how Apple has abused their power over online speech, and notes instances of this in China. According to the report, Apple has not disclosed data around the content that it removes from its App Store when faced with requests from the government authorities.

While [Apple] disclosed data about government requests to restrict accounts, it disclosed no data about content removal requests, such as requests to remove apps from its App Store. Apple revealed little about policies and practices affecting freedom of expression, scoring below all other U.S. companies in this category.

The report makes intelligent and sensible recommendations for governments. However, the recommendations also highlight how difficult it is to have these discussions with governments like China’s.

Thu, Nov 30, 2017

About those 674 apps that Apple censored in China

Apple opened the door on its censorship practices in China - but just a crack.
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