Eight Questions For GlobalWebIndex

GlobalWebIndex published a new report on Internet usage around the world this week, and it contained some great news for China. Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have increased their user numbers dramatically in China, as seen below. There's just one problem. They are all blocked in China, and we believe that GlobalWebIndex has got its data wrong (as do TheNextWeb):

 
This development is what we hope happens in China's future and it's what we are fighting for but it certainly is not the reality now. The last thing we want to see is people saying that Chinese netizens have free and open access to social media around the world. They don't! They are prevented from looking at many foreign web sites and they are also prevented from accessing information on Chinese web sites. The Great Firewall is not some myth, it's a sad reality. Chinese censorship authorities will be delighted to see this news as it makes the rest of the world believe that censorship is not happening here.
 
Because of this, we want to ask GlobalWebIndex the following 8 questions:
  1. How many registered users are there from China for Twitter, Facebook and Google+? Your own data and tweets suggest 70 million for Twitter (via your tweet), 125 million for Facebook (also via your tweet although slide 17 of your report suggests 450 million) and 150 million for  Google + (via the same report).
  2. How many of those users are active? Your data again suggests 35.4 million Twitter users (via your blog post) but eMarketer suggests 35.5 million (via their infographic). Facebook at 63 million and Google + at 106 million (both via your infographic). How do the active user percentages for Twitter (47%), Facebook (50%) and Google + (71%) compare to other markets?
  3. Does China include Hong Kong, Macau and/or Taiwan in your reports?
  4. If Twitter has more active users in China than in the US, how come the most popular account based in China has only 562,250 followers (and is run by a foreigner)? This compares to the most followed US-based Twitter account (@ladygaga: 29m followers) as well as the most followed Sina Weibo account (姚晨: 24m followers), both more than 100 times more popular.
  5. If Facebook has tens of millions of users in China, why do they themselves only claim to have 600k?
  6. If LinkedIn.com has 16m users in China and Facebook has four times as many, why does Alexa rank LinkedIn as #267 and Facebook only as #482?
  7. What is a “Virtual Cloud Network” and how do you use it to circumvent censorship? Did you ask users how they get around the Great Firewall? In our experience, free circumvention tools such as Ultrasurf and Freegate are more widespread than commercial VPNs but we lack data and it would be very interesting to know more.
  8. How did you/Lightspeed find users to reply to your surveys in China? Was the survey in Chinese? If so, how were the names of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn translated? On what websites was it advertised? Was the survey website itself blocked or throttled in China?

 

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Mon, Jan 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Lu Wei and the Cyberspace Administration of China

January 26, 2015

Beijing, China

 

Mr. Lu Wei

Director of the Cyberspace Administration of the People’s Republic of China 中央网络安全和信息化领导小组办公室主任

Director of the State Internet Information Office 国家互联网信息办公室主任

Deputy Director of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party 中共中央宣传部副部长

Cyberspace Administration of China,

Floor 1, Building 1,

Software Park, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

4 South 4th Street, Zhongguancun,

Beijing, China, 100190

 

Dear Mr. Lu,

On January 22, 2015, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is under your direct control, wrote a response to a story we published about an MITM attack on Microsoft. In the post, your colleague, Jiang Jun, labelled our accusations as "groundless" and  "unsupported speculation, a pure slanderous act by overseas anti-China forces".

We at GreatFire.org take great offense to these comments and we will refute them in this letter.

Mon, Jan 19, 2015

Outlook grim - Chinese authorities attack Microsoft

On January 17, we received reports that Microsoft’s email system, Outlook (which was merged with Hotmail in 2013), was subjected to a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack in China.

The following screenshot shows what happens when a Chinese user accesses Outlook via an email client (in this case, Ice-dove):

We have tested Outlook to verify the attack and have produced the same results. IMAP and SMTP for Outlook were under a MITM attack. Do note however that the web interfaces (https://outlook.com and https://login.live.com/ ) were not affected. The attack lasted for about a day and has now ceased.

This form of attack is especially devious because the warning messages users receive from their email clients are much less noticeable than the warning messages delivered to modern browsers (see screenshot at the end of this post for comparison).

(Sample error message from default iPhone mail client)

Fri, Jan 09, 2015

GFW upgrade fail - visitors to blocked sites redirected to porn

In the past, the Chinese authorities’ DNS poisoning system would direct Chinese internet users who were trying to access Facebook, Twitter and other blocked websites (without the use of a circumvention tool) to a set of fake IP addresses that are blocked in China or are non-existent. After waiting for some time, Chinese internet users would receive a timeout message if they were trying to access a blocked site.

However, with the new DNS poisoning system, in addition to those IP addresses used before, the Chinese authorities are using real IP addresses that actually host websites and are accessible in China. For example, https://support.dnspod.cn/Tools/tools/ shows that if a user tries to access Facebook from China, they might instead land on a random web page, e.g. http://178.62.75.99

Below is a screenshot by a Chinese user when he was trying to access our GreatFire.org website which was blocked in China. He was redirected to a goverment site in Korea. In essense, GFW is sending Chinese users to DDOS the Korea government's website.

One Chinese Internet user reported to us that when he tried to access Facebook in China, he was sent to a Russian website, unrelated to Facebook. Another user tweeted that he was redirected to an German adult site when he tried to access a website for a VPN.

某墙你这什么意思,DNS 污染返回给我一个德国工口站的 IP,满屏很黄很暴力弹弹弹(

— nil (@xierch) January 4, 2015

Wed, Dec 31, 2014

CNNIC leadership change coincides with blocking of Gmail

On December 26, 2014, in an announcement posted on their website, a new chairperson for CNNIC was directly appointed by the Cyberspace Administration of China. The announcement of this appointment coincided with the complete blocking of Gmail.

Cyberspace Administration of China (中央网信办) is chaired by Lu Wei, “China’s web doorkeeper”. Lu Wei is also the vice chair of the Central Propaganda Department, according to his official resume.

chair.png

This office is directly responsible for the blocking of Gmail and other websites including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

CNNIC is China’s certification authority and operates the country’s domain name registry. 

What are certificates used for?

Certificates are used primarily to verify the identity of a person or device, authenticate a service, or encrypt files. 

What is a certification authority (CA)?  

Tue, Dec 30, 2014

Gmail completely blocked in China

All Google products in China have been severely disrupted since June of this year and Chinese users have not been able to access Gmail via its web interface since the summer. However, email protocols such as IMAP, SMTP and POP3 had been accessible but are not anymore. These protocols are used in the default email app on iPhone, Microsoft Outlook on PC and many more email clients.

On December 26, GFW started to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail. These IP addresses are used by IMAP/SMTP/POP3. Chinese users now have no way of accessing Gmail behind the GFW. Before, they could still send or receive emails via email clients even though Gmail's web interface was not accessible. 

Google's own traffic chart shows a sharp decline of Chinese traffic to Gmail. 

Below is a ping request to the Gmail SMTP server, which is completely inaccessible in China.

 

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