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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