GreatFire Newsletter - April, 2012

April was an eventful month in China. Here's a summary of the most important Internet censorship news that we detected.

No major changes after Internet outage on April 12

There was an extraordinary Internet outage in China on April 12. Many reported that all foreign websites were unaccessible for about two hours. Our data confirms that several websites that are otherwise not blocked were not accessible, but interestingly other foreign websites were still available. For more info on what happened, check out our answer on Quora. Some people suggested that the authorities were trying out a new version of the Great Firewall, which would be more restrictive than before. Our data does not support this claim. As you can see in the first graph below, there has not been any major change in the number of major websites that are blocked in China. Furthermore, the second graph shows that foreign websites were actually faster to access in April than during previous months.

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Showing Alexa Top 500 websites blocked 50% or more of the time, per month. Source.

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Showing average download speed of Alexa Top 500 websites not hosted in China, per month. Source.

Google Drive and the ongoing Google vs CCP battle

Google Drive was launched on April 24. Within three days, it was blocked in China. This is similar to Google Plus which was launched on June 28 last year, and confirmed to be blocked since July 4. It is likely that the Great Firewall has a special team dedicated to monitoring and blocking new Google services. They are probably keen not to repeat the mistake of Google Mail which was left unblocked and, meanwhile, switched over to encrypted communications only (meaning that email content can't be intercepted). The authorites would probably like to block it. The only reason we can see that they don't is that they're afraid of the reactions because so many (especially educated, big-city people) are already using it.

Curiously, was blocked on March 29 (and has been blocked before) but is not blocked. The latter redirects users in China to (note the HTTP, as in not encrypted). Much more importantly, the encrypted Hong Kong version of Google at remains unblocked. While not on by default, it does allow Chinese users to search for any of the hundreds of keywords that are otherwise blocked. was blocked on March 29 and has stayed that way, though the unencrypted version remains accessible ( The same thing happened to the encrypted version of Google Maps ( - the unencrypted version also remains (

Several previously unblocked keywords were blocked on Google Search. These include google: 九长老 - a reference to the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, google: 政变 - meaning coup d'état, google: 共匪 - meaning communist bandit, and google: 滤霸, 驴爸 which was unblocked again on April 27.

YouTube fully blocked again

The encrypted version of YouTube - - was accessible in China for several days in March. Since March 29, though, it has been fully blocked again, suggesting that the Great Firewall is now better at blocking encrypted websites. HTTPS makes online censorship more difficult in that intercepting network devices don't know what the web traffic is. So while a web request to can be blocked simply by detecting that the user is trying to access a blacklisted URL, a request to can only be hindered by either blocking the IP address of the server or by DNS poisoning the domain lookup. The former is difficult because IP addresses tend to change over time, and the latter is imperfect because it's decentralized and easier to get around than other forms of censorship. For example, the encrypted YouTube URL was tested eight times during April. Five different IP addresses were returned on the different test occasions. Only on three of the occasions was a completely different IP address returned (suggesting DNS Poisoning). On all eight test ocassions though, the website was blocked. This suggests that the Great Firewall is now either blocking ranges of IP addresses, or continuously monitoring changes in IP addresses and blocking them accordingly.

Blocked and unblocked on Sina Weibo

weibo: 王立军, the former Chongqing police chief who triggered the biggest political scandal in China in many years, was blocked on or before April 10 (but was not blocked on April 3). As part of the same scandal, weibo: heywood was blocked on or before April 14. weibo: 薄熙来 himself was blocked on or before April 10.

Other keywords were unblocked. weibo: 蔡赴朝, the name of a CCP politican, was unblocked on or before April 21. weibo: 女同 - lesbian - was unblocked on or before April 7.

You can lookup and test any keyword for censorship on Sina Weibo here. Also much recommended are BlockedOnWeibo, a blog which publishes frequent news on keywords blocked on Weibo, and WeiboScope, a database of deleted Weibo posts.

Other major Weibo news of April is that Sina is still avoiding fully implementing real-name registration requirements and that Sina as well as Tencent Weibo turned off commenting for three days starting on March 31.

Other notable changes

The English en.wikipedia: Huang_Qi entry (a currently imprisoned human-rights activist) was blocked all of April, and then unblocked again in early May. was inaccessible on a couple of occasions in April and is consistently very slow in China. was unblocked in March and stayed unblocked throughout April. was blocked on March 26 and has stayed blocked since. was blocked on April 4 and has stayed blocked since. - A Chinese-language wiki - was blocked on April 9 and has stayed blocked since. - a gaming website - was unblocked at the end of March and has stayed accessible since. - a campaign website - was partially blocked already in March and fully blocked throughout April. - a blog covering news in China - was blocked at the end of March and has stayed blocked since.

GreatFire announces

There are many ways to get around the Great Firewall of China: VPNs, proxies, Tor etc. Some of them cost money and some are free. They are all bound to be unreliable though because they depend on a server used to tunnel the web traffic in order to circumvent the censorship. If the IP address of the server being used is blocked, the service ceases to work. It can be fixed of course, by changing to another server, but meanwhile you may find yourself without any means of accessing blocked websites. Until now. is a circumvention tool that is very difficult to block. This is because it relies on email and not HTTP traffic. All you need to do is to send an email to and enter the URL of the website that you want to view as the email subject. Within a few seconds (sometimes longer) you will receive a PDF version of the website.

For example, create a new email with the subject and send it off to You will receive an updated PDF copy of that website - blocked in China - shortly thereafter.

It's not a perfect solution by any means. You can't log in to websites, such as Facebook, and you can't view videos. However, for those times when you simply want to view a blocked website and you have no other means, it's very convenient. All you need to remember is

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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.

Tue, May 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (, the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.


Mon, Dec 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

Thu, Nov 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

Tue, Jul 05, 2016 现在开始测试VPN在中国的速度和稳定性






我们开发速度测试的目的是要真实反映用户的体验。当用户在网站测速时,浏览器在后台会从10个世界上最流行的网站上下载一些资源文件。根据Alexa排名,这些网站分别是Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, QQ, Twitter and Microsoft Live。速度的结果是简单的计算下载文件文件的大小和下载所需的时间。我们同样也会验证下载的文件是否完整。如果文件的内容是错误的或者在40秒内无法完成下载,我们会标记为失败。这个数据被我们用来生成另一个重要指标-稳定性。


我们的第二个指标 - 稳定性 - 是其他的服务通常不会测试的。一个健康的互联网连接应该达到100%的稳定性,除非有人在测试中把网线拔了。但是在中国使用翻墙工具却不是这样。任何时候连接都有可能变得不稳定或十分缓慢。根据请求的大小,最终的地点和代理的方式,一些请求有可能会失败。比较服务的稳定性要比比较速度更加重要。





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