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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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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