Gmail is getting faster but still not as fast as dial-up

Many in China have complained that Gmail is so slow that it is almost impossible to use (see our original story from March 2011 - Gmail now 45 times slower than QQ). We have continued to gather data on the Gmail situaiton in light of Google's continued operation in China. With more data we can now show how the situation has developed since March. The results are clear in this chart:

All foreign webmail providers are considerably slower than domestic competitors (QQ is included for comparison). Out of Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, a distressed Yahoo, whose local partner in China is Alibaba, is consistently the fastest free foreign email provider. Hotmail has at times challenged Gmail to a race to the bottom. Using the same comparison as in March, Gmail is now only 9 times slower than QQ and has seen a considerable improvement in speed since September.

One way to put the speed of Gmail into perspective is to compare today's access speed with old dial-up modems, for those that remember. In the 1990s, they provided speeds up to 56 kbps, or roughly 7000 bytes per second. That is considerably faster than the average speed of either Gmail or Hotmail, when accessed from within China in 2011.

Apart from speed, the main problem with Gmail in China is instability. Rather than blocking the service outright, it seems that the authorities have chosen to impose occasional, random outages. Looking back over the year (from March onwards), we can see the following:

Gmail has had an acceptable download speed less than 30% of the times we've tested it. Most of the time, it's very slow (meaning less than 5000 bytes/second). Our data suggests that all foreign webmail services are temporarily blocked from time to time. Again, Yahoo performs better than either Gmail or Hotmail.

Data from QQ is included for comparison reasons. As QQ is hosted in China, it would not be blocked by the Great Firewall. While the data may indicate that QQ has been blocked at times, this is most likely due to problems with the test location or data noise. Please allow a margin of error of plus or minus 3% on all data which appears on this web site.

The data is based on 776 individual tests from March onwards. You can check the latest data for webmail services here.

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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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