What is going on with GMail in China, and how to get around it

What Is Going On?

The URL of GMail is https://mail.google.com/mail. The subdomain mail.google.com points to four separate IP addresses, listed below. According to our latest tests, only one of these is fully working in China. The other three are fully blocked, or blocked depending on where in the country you are or which ISP you use. Interestingly, only HTTPS connections to these IP addresses are blocked. For example, you can visit http://74.125.128.19. Doing so will take you to Google Search; GMail is available on HTTPS only.

IP 地址我们的测试评论
74.125.128.17https://74.125.128.17Not blocked
74.125.128.18https://74.125.128.18Blocked
74.125.128.19https://74.125.128.19Blocked or not depending on location
74.125.128.83https://74.125.128.83Blocked or not depending on location

The Partial Blocking Strategy

Partially blocking GMail may give users the impression that Google is to blame for offering an unstable service. If this strategy works, Chinese users may decide to switch to domestic providers, which operate under local censorship and surveillence conditions. Another explanation for this partial blocking may be that the authorities are nervous of fully blocking GMail. It's one thing to block a social network or a foreign news website (like http://www.nytimes.com which was recently blocked). Losing access to your email is considerably worse - if you switch to a new provider, you lose all your contacts and your past emails. The government may be scared of a backlash from the urban, educated and young people who tend to use GMail, not to mention the businesses that rely on it.

It's hardly a coincidence that this partial blocking is coming only days before the start of the 18th Party Congress. A similar tactic was used in March last year, at the time of the calls for a Jasmine Revolution (as can be seen in our data). These occasions may also provide a good excuse for dealing with what is really much more of a long-term problem - getting rid of Google. Google has a unique position on the Chinese Internet. While it's a minority player, it offers millions of Chinese netizens one of few ways of uncensored web seach (at https://www.google.com.hk) as well as encrypted email communication (through GMail).

What You Can Do

The obvious solution is to use a VPN or some other form of circumvention software. However, many people are reporting problems connecting to their VPNs these days. Luckily, there's another solution. As long as GMail isn't fully blocked, all you need to do is help your computer decide which IP address it should connect to. Regardless of whether you are on a Mac, Windows or Linux computer, this is done by editing the so-called "hosts file". You need to add an entry like this:

74.125.128.17 mail.google.com

HowToGeek has a nice tutorial on how to edit the hosts file.

If it still doesn't work, you can try substituting any of the other three IP addresses in the table above. Whether any one IP works likely depends on your location, your ISP and it may also change quickly over the coming days.

Tell Google To Fix It!

Google can at any time change these IP addresses. Staying ahead of the censors is a game of cat and mouse, so tell the mouse to run faster. Report the issue to Google 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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Comments

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