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

GreatFire's first project, released in 2011, was this website, Analyzer. The site has not changed much over the years until this year! We'd like to invite you to try the new Analyzer - now called Blocky. Please let us know what you think by sending an email to support@greatfire.org.

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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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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