GreatFire June: Bloomberg Blocked As Well As Hundreds Of Additional Keywords On Weibo

The big question for people following online censorship in China is a simple: is censorship increasing or decreasing in China? Many cite the growth of microblogs such as Sina Weibo, as well as the total number of Internet users in China, and argue that while censorship is pervasive, overall, things are opening up. However, two developments during the month of June suggest otherwise. The first was that Bloomberg was blocked, the first time in years that a major, English-language news website was blocked. The second was that out of the 15,000+ keywords on Sina Weibo, Google and Wikipedia that we are monitoring, an additional 231 were blocked while only 24 were unblocked. It would seem that the grip on censorship is tightening.

In a curious incident, Henan News published a story mentioning the Great Firewall by name both in Chinese and English. The story was quickly deleted, but thanks to Google Cache you can still view it here.

Bloomberg Blocked - More To Come?

http://www.bloomberg.com was blocked on June 29. As a major, English-language news website, this means that Bloomberg has been singled out by the Chinese authorities. This followed a lengthy report by Bloomberg on the family wealth of Xi Jinping, the man presumed to replace Hu Jintao as Chairman of the Communist Party later this year. The obvious reason for blocking Bloomberg would be to prevent Chinese netizens from reading the story in the first place. This is not all that effective however, since blocking it only brought more attention to the story, and much of the content of the story could soon be found on other foreign media websites which themselves were not blocked. The authorities could have blocked access to the story without blocking Bloomberg altogether, as they did with a story in The Economist about the Bloomberg story on Xi Jinping. Another interpretation is that the authorities wanted to send a warning to foreign journalists in China: don't go too far, or we'll block you altogether, because bloomberg China http://www.bloomberg.cn/ which is a technical site and contains no reports of Xi Jingping is blocked even though it acquired an ICP license from Chinese authority ,  That would also be supported by the expulsion of a foreign journalist in May, the first such action since 1998. We could likely write a separate post on how foreign news organizations agree to self-censor their content in exchange for market access in China but for the purposes of this story we will assume that the authorities block the content that they want to block.

At almost the same time, the New York Times launched a Chinese edition of it's website, which has so far not been blocked. The fact that most other Chinese versions of foreign media websites are blocked suggest that this is just a question of time. Also, as we reported on July 3, the Weibo accounts of the New York Times were quickly closed on both Sina and Tencent.

Here's an overview of major news websites and which ones are currently blocked. We'll follow their progress with great interest.

English WebsiteChinese WebsiteComments
http://www.bbc.co.ukhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/zhongwen 
http://www.bloomberg.com- 
-http://www.boxun.com 
http://chinadigitaltimes.nethttp://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese 
http://www.cnn.com- 
http://www.economist.com- 
http://www.ft.comhttp://www.ftchinese.comIndividual articles on the Chinese edition such as this one are blocked.
http://www.guardian.co.uk- 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com- 
http://www.nytimes.comhttp://cn.nytimes.comLaunched in June, 2012. Will it be blocked?
http://www.scmp.com- 
http://www.voanews.comhttp://www.voachinese.com 
http://wsj.comhttp://cn.wsj.com 

Google (Quietly) Continues To Bring Transparency To Censorship

As we reported last month, Google launched a new feature which notifies users trying to search for certain keywords that would otherwise be blocked by the Great Firewall. The new function was quickly disabled by the Chinese authorities by blocking access to the javascript file in which it was defined. Since then, Google has cleverly responded by embedding all the required code and data of what's blocked in the html file. This makes it difficult for the Great Firewall to disable this transparency function without blocking Google altogether. So far, they've done nothing and as this is written the feature is working in China.

If Google wants to, they could take this much further. If a user clicks on a URL known to be blocked, for example, they could inform the user and even offer suggestions of ways around the censorship. We'll keep following the Google vs Great Firewall battle closely.

Unblocked Foreign Websites Keep Getting Faster

As can be seen in the chart below, foreign websites that are not blocked continue the trend of getting faster in China. The data is based on average download speed of Alexa Top 500 websites not hosted in China, per month.

Loading chart..

Keywords Blocked And Unblocked

Below is a list of 231 unique keywords that were blocked in June. Only keywords that we know were not blocked before June are included. Also, there's a list of 24 keywords that were previously blocked, and were unblocked during June. As always, if you think anything is missing, please add it to our database for testing using the search bar on the top of this page. All URLs and keywords in our database are continously tested so that we can detect changes.

Other Notable Changes

Do you remember http://myspace.com? At least the people in charge of the Great Firewall seem to - they blocked it last month. On the other hand, http://www.rapidshare.com was unblocked at least as of June 1. http://www.bitly.com was blocked at least as of June 24 but the shorter domain http://bit.ly which is used for short links is still not blocked.

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Wed, Jul 15, 2015

LinkedIn: technological and financial giants; but morally pygmies

When LinkedIn decided to create a China-hosted version of its website in February, 2014, it made a decision to compromise the company's values in the pursuit of the dollar.

It's important to note that before LinkedIn launched LingYing (the local version of the site), LinkedIn was already active in China. By their own account, they had four million registered users (with little marketing effort), a Chinese-language interface and China-based clients who were buying recruitment ads on the platform (the major source of their revenue). The site had been blocked by the authorities for one 24-hour period but otherwise was always accessible.

So why was it necessary for LinkedIn to create a local entity in China? With a local entity the company would be able to issue official receipts in RMB, making it more convenient for local companies to buy advertising on the site. A local entity also makes it easier to secure marketing deals to promote LingYing in China.

But perhaps the biggest appeal in creating a local entity for LinkedIn is that it would be among the few foreign internet companies who could cosy up with Lu Wei and the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). Having that kind of a relationship with CAC surely helps the business and those who are associated with the company.

Sat, Apr 04, 2015

CNNIC censors news about their own statement

On April 1, 2015 Google announced that they will no longer recognize the CNNIC Root and EV (extensive validation) certificate authorities (CAs).

On April 2, 2015 Mozilla concluded that CNNIC’s behaviour in issuing an unconstrained intermediate certificate to another company was ‘egregious practice’ and that Mozilla products would no longer trust any certificate issued by CNNIC’s roots. Mozilla also published a more detailed report about their actions.

After unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains were exposed by Google and Mozilla on March 23, 2015, CNNIC censored any mention of these posts. CNNIC is not only a certificate authority, they are also China’s online censorship apparatus. CNNIC was, is and will continue to practice internet censorship.

 

News about the April 1 and 2 annoucements has again been censored on social media and also on traditional media in China.

Below is a screenshot of Weibo posts about these announcements.

 

Tue, Mar 31, 2015

Chinese authorities compromise millions in cyberattacks

The Great Firewall has switched from being a passive, inbound filter to being an active and aggressive outbound one. This is a frightening development and the implications of this action extend beyond control of information on the internet. In one quick movement, the authorities have shifted from enforcing strict censorship in China to enforcing Chinese censorship on internet users worldwide.

Fri, Mar 27, 2015

CNNIC censored Google and Mozilla’s posts about CNNIC CA

This week, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains, the root CA of which is CNNIC. Google and Mozilla both publicly disclosed this security incident and published blog posts(Google, Mozilla). However, Chinese translations of Google’s and Mozilla's blog posts were censored on the Chinese Internet.

  • William Long is a prominent Chinese blogger on IT and tech. He translated Google’s security post without adding any personal opinions. The Chinese blogpost ranked #1 when searching CNNIC MITM in Chinese on Google and Baidu. He tweeted that he received a phone call from propaganda department demanding the post to be removed immediately. The post http://www.williamlong.info/archives/4183.html was deleted. Google cache is still available.

Wed, Mar 25, 2015

Evidence shows CNNIC and CAC behind MITM attacks

Since 2013, we have repeatedly called on major software vendors to revoke CNNIC-issued certificates. Most notably, we raised this issue when we reported on the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on Google, Microsoft’s Outlook, Apple, Yahoo and Github. Mainstream media have reported about these security vulnerabilities before and on March 24, Ars Technica reported on Google’s announcement that they have definitive evidence that CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) was behind a new MITM attack on Google.

From our October, 2014 blog post:

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