Google unblocked again - was it a mistake or a test?

The DNS poisoning that was imposed on most Google websites yesterday appears to have been lifted. The blocking was likely reversed some time this morning. Due to the nature of DNS there is a delay before this trickles down to every ISP and every computer so if you still cannot access Google in China it's likely just a question of time. You can also try to flush your DNS cache and it should work again.

Even though the blocking of Google Search may only have lasted for 12 hours or so, it was likely the single one decision by the Great Firewall authorities affecting the most users ever. So what really happened? Here are some theories:

1. Was it a mistake?

The blocking of the worlds number one (and Chinas number two) search engine took place on a Friday night. It's possible that someone simply pressed the wrong button and accidentally DNS poisoned the wrong website. Perhaps they only meant to block mail.google.com. If it was a mistake, that would explain why it was seemingly reversed this morning. In that case, at least one employee of the Golden Shield Project must have lost their job today. However, there's one reason to believe this is not the case. The authorities didn't just block access to google.com or all subdomains that belong to it (such as mail.google.com, play.google.com, maps.google.com etc). They also DNS poisoned google.com.hk and google-analytics.com. This can't be done by accidentally hitting one button - you have to launch three separate actions. So if it wasn't a mistake, what could have happened?

2. Were the authorities testing the public opinion?

We've argued before that the authorites have stayed away from blocking access to GMail only because they are afraid of the reaction if they would cut it off completely. However, they have taken actions to make it slow and unstable. In March, 2011, it seemed like they were going to block GMail but then they backed down. Could it be that this quick decision to reverse the blocking of Google was a similar test of the publics reaction? You can read comments by Sina Weibo users here. Clearly people were unhappy to find their access to Google, GMail etc cut off. Many blamed the ongoing Party Congress. Perhaps the authorities read these reactions and decided that people were too upset?

Interestingly, Sina Weibo did not block searches for Google. Neither have they, as it appears, deleted any messages referring to Google recently. Perhaps this was deliberate, if they wanted to measure the reactions. Perhaps they will now evaluate how strongly people feel about having access to Google, and reach a conclusion of whether to permantently block it in the future.

3. Were the authorities testing the "block Google" button?

Another possibility is that this was a test of a new "block Google" button. The authorities may want to know that, if they so wish, they can easily order the blocking of all Google services in China. If this was indeed such a test, the timing seems convenient (Friday night, when international businesses are closed).

Anyhow, what's the situation now?

Whatever you make of the last 24 hours, it seems we're now back to where we started. That is, Google isn't universally blocked, but many individual Google services are censored, fully or from time to time. In particular, access to GMail is shaky, probably because one or more of it's IP addresses are blocked.

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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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Comments

There could of course be another option: your initial report was wrong.

The initial report was, indeed, 100% correct. When i lost all access to Google HK and Gmail last night, I went straight to Google UK and searched for any lastest info. This site was the only one to supply any news, and furthermore, I was amazed at how quickly such a detailed account of the situation had been provided. I have bookemarked this site; it will be extremely useful to me in my future life in China. Thanks, Greatfire Org, for quickly advising us 'just how it is', in a clear and simple way. :)

Well, Google Docs is STILL blocked in Ningbo, China, as of November 12. Incredibly annoying as I use it as a teaching tool.

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