Google Bows Down To Chinese Government On Censorship

Sometime between December 5 and December 8 last year, Google made a surprising decision that hasn’t yet been reported. They decided to remove a feature which had previously informed users from China of censored keywords (screenshot below). At the same time, they deleted the help article which explained how to use the feature. This indicates a new development in the relationship between the Chinese government and Google. Since Google moved its search engine to Hong Kong in 2010, censorship of its services such as YouTube, Google Plus and thousands of keywords on Google Search has been done by the Great Firewall, out of control of Google. This latest move was fully controlled by Google and can as such only be described as self-censorship.

Google has been depicted as a model company that stands up to the Chinese government and upholds its famous motto “Don’t be evil”. This impression reached a climax in May this year when Google introduced a new warning message aimed at users in China. Typing one of the many keywords blocked by the Great Firewall, this message would inform the user that continuing the search would probably break the user's connection. It was a bold step towards exposing the censorship that the authorities desperately try to hide. At the time, Foreign Policy asked whether in this “second clash between the Internet search giant and the Chinese government, will freedom of speech win?”.

Within 24 hours of Google’s new feature, The Great Firewall had struck back by blocking the javascript file containing the function and blocked keywords data (see Timeline Of Events below for more). Google in turn reacted by changing the URL of this file, which again was blocked. The cat and mouse game ended before the end of the month when Google geniously embedded the whole function in the HTML of its start page. This made it technically impossible to block the new function without blocking Google altogether.
This was a remarkable victory against censorship. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. According to our test data, Google switched off the embedded function for Chinese users sometime between December 5 and December 8. Why did they pull the switch?
One theory is that embedding the China-specific function on Google’s front page makes the system more difficult to maintain. The more complex a system is, the harder it is to improve. On the other hand, this function was clearly valuable. And with all the brilliant minds Google has at its disposal, they could surely find a technical solution. Though Google’s market share in China is only around 5%, that still translates to more than 25 million Internet users.
What really renders this theory void is that Google also deleted the help article about this function. While disabling a feature could potentially be a result of technical streamlining, deleting a help article and so pretending that the feature never existed makes no sense. The article used to be available at but trying to view it now renders a “Page not available” message. Our test data shows that the article was still available on December 5 and that it had been removed by December 8. This is the same time that the function itself was disabled. Here’s a screenshot of the original help article:

What could be the reason for Google to switch off their smart anti-censorship function and at the same time delete the help article about the same function? The developers who painstakingly constructed it only half a year ago must have screamed in protest. Since the removal of the help article could only be done willingly by Google, the only explanation we see is that Google struck a deal with the Chinese government, giving in to considerable pressure to self-censor.

How did the Chinese government force such a candid company to do its bidding? Perhaps the complete blocking of Google Search on Nov 9 was part of it. The block was lifted after less than 24 hours making the move look very peculiar. At the time we speculated that perhaps it was a test of a “block-all-of-Google” button, but this new theory of it being part of pressuring Google looks at least as likely. It may have been an instance of the government showing off its power to Google and using it as a leverage in their negotiations. 

Also in November, the throttling and partial blocking of Google’s Mail service was stepped up considerably. In the end, Google may have decided that providing a restricted version of Google Search and a slow but usable Gmail to Chinese users is much better than being completely cut off.

This is a grave setback in the fight against censorship and Google has been caught on the wrong side. It suggests that Google’s reputation as a fighter of censorship may not be fully earned. However, it’s not obvious that any other company is much better (see these stories critical of Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo). Gmail may still be the best email service for Chinese dissidents because it supports https, two-step authentication, and warns against suspicious activity and state-sponsored attacks. We appreciate that Google tries to stand up to the government, even though it seems to have been forced to bow down.

Looking forward, a weakened Google suggests that it won’t continue to push the boundaries of censorship in China. For example, it is unlikely to start redirecting all Chinese users to its HTTPS version of Google Search, even though that would enable searching of all blocked keywords in one strike.

We hope that Google will offer us and its millions of Chinese users an explanation of what really happened. However, given what Google says on the China section of its Transparency Report website, this may be unlikely:

Chinese officials consider censorship demands to be state secrets, so we cannot disclose any information about content removal requests.

Update: According to the Guardian, "A Google spokesman confirmed it removed the notification features in December, but declined to comment further due to the sensitivity of the situation in China." and “A source in China said Google decided it was "counterproductive" to continue the technical dispute, despite several attempts to get around it.”

Timeline Of Events

May 31Google introduces new feature informing Mainland China users of blocked keywords. Google publishes blog posts, help article and Youtube videos about it.
May 31GFW disables new feature by blocking javascript file containing the function and data of blocked keywords.
June 2Google changes the URL of the javascript file, enabling the function again*
June 2 - June 18GFW blocks the new URL again.*
Before end of JuneGoogle embeds the new anti-censorship function on its front page, making it near-impossible to block.
Nov 6Partial blocking of Gmail is stepped up.
Nov 9All of and are blocked in China.
Nov 10Google is unblocked again.
Dec 5 - Dec 8Google stops embedding the anti-censorship function on its front page.From our database. Last record including
embedded function was on Dec 5. First record without it was on Dec 8.
Dec 5 - Dec 8Google deletes the help article.Dec 5 (article available).
Dec 8 (article deleted). 

*Because the exact URL is too long, our test system only tests the truncated version of the exact URL. This explains the 404 when accessing from U.S, but the block in China is still effective for this truncated version of URL.


  1. The external Javascript file containing an encoded list of blocked keywords (which was later embedded on the front page for Chinese users):,st,anim,bbd,c,sb_cn,hv,wta,cr,cdos,sk....
  2. Google official blog posts about the anti-censorship feature:
    1. (English)
    2. (Chinese)
  3. YouTube videos about observations in mainland China, by Google:
    1. (English)
    2. (Chinese)


More Blog Posts

Subscribe to our mailing list
Show content from Blog | Google+ | Twitter | All. Subscribe to our blog using RSS.

Fri, Sep 04, 2015

GreatFire Q&A with Jimmy Wales on China Censorship

We have been critical of Wikipedia’s approach to censorship in the Middle Kingdom. In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, I lamented the loss of Wikipedia in China. The encyclopedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, who is also a staunch and public anti-censorship champion, reached out to us on Twitter. Jimmy agreed to publish our unedited exchange on the difficult nature of dealing with censorship in China.

Wed, Aug 26, 2015

Chinese developers forced to delete softwares by police

What happened?


On August 22, an open source project called ShadowSocks was removed from GitHub.


According to the project’s author, the police contacted him and asked him to stop working on the tool and to remove all of the code from GitHub.


He later removed the reference of the police, presumably under the pressure of the police.

After the news, many Chinese and foreign developers, as well as ShadowSocks users, paid tribute to the author. As a result of this attention, ShadowSocks became the top trending project on GitHub.



Wed, Jul 15, 2015

LinkedIn: technological and financial giants; but morally pygmies

When LinkedIn decided to create a China-hosted version of its website in February, 2014, it made a decision to compromise the company's values in the pursuit of the dollar.

It's important to note that before LinkedIn launched LingYing (the local version of the site), LinkedIn was already active in China. By their own account, they had four million registered users (with little marketing effort), a Chinese-language interface and China-based clients who were buying recruitment ads on the platform (the major source of their revenue). The site had been blocked by the authorities for one 24-hour period but otherwise was always accessible.

So why was it necessary for LinkedIn to create a local entity in China? With a local entity the company would be able to issue official receipts in RMB, making it more convenient for local companies to buy advertising on the site. A local entity also makes it easier to secure marketing deals to promote LingYing in China.

But perhaps the biggest appeal in creating a local entity for LinkedIn is that it would be among the few foreign internet companies who could cosy up with Lu Wei and the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). Having that kind of a relationship with CAC surely helps the business and those who are associated with the company.

Thu, Jun 18, 2015

We Had Our Arguments, But We Will Miss You Wikipedia

Wikipedia is the latest nail in the internet freedom coffin and it certainly will not be the last. Wikipedia thought that by engaging with China, the authorities would gradually open up. They thought that by allowing the Chinese authorities to censor as much information as they wanted, that eventually they would relinquish control. They thought that for those in China, having access to some Wikipedia pages was better than having access to none.

Sat, Apr 04, 2015

CNNIC censors news about their own statement

On April 1, 2015 Google announced that they will no longer recognize the CNNIC Root and EV (extensive validation) certificate authorities (CAs).

On April 2, 2015 Mozilla concluded that CNNIC’s behaviour in issuing an unconstrained intermediate certificate to another company was ‘egregious practice’ and that Mozilla products would no longer trust any certificate issued by CNNIC’s roots. Mozilla also published a more detailed report about their actions.

After unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains were exposed by Google and Mozilla on March 23, 2015, CNNIC censored any mention of these posts. CNNIC is not only a certificate authority, they are also China’s online censorship apparatus. CNNIC was, is and will continue to practice internet censorship.


News about the April 1 and 2 annoucements has again been censored on social media and also on traditional media in China.

Below is a screenshot of Weibo posts about these announcements.


Subscribe to our blog using RSS.


Good web site you hav got here.. It's difficult to find excellent writing like yours nowadays.
I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!

Take a look at my site - wildlife artists cape town

It is highly recommended to work with those services
as they insure that most of the movers are certified and insured.
This factor makes them reliable and trusted by the clients very much.
Or, you can connect stereo devices, either speakers or headsets, to your i
- Phone and listen to music and videos without the need to plug in headphones.

Look into my web blog - รถรับจ้างขนของ

The yummy fresh chocolates on valentine day are most special gift.
However the quality was often quite poor and some sold for as little as a shilling.
With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, on
February 14th, many are wondering what to do for that special someone.

my blog post :: valentine day sms

After Daytona Beach Police Detectives finished their investigation of the
incident, the scene was turned over to a site manager for Clean Fuels National, who police emphasized
was not at the scene when the incident happened. It has emerged as one of
the best weekend destinations especially for families.
"Backwater tours for four hours, six hours or eight hours can be arranged for two or more anglers.

my web blog; daytona 500 live streaming

this post is awesome, great msg for us, plz update ur blog for daily basis, i am regular visitor of this site, so keep posting for us,

click the below links to create backlink
best free backlink website
click here for msg movie

thanks for this post, keep it up for updating us, i am waiting for ur new article.
IPL 2015 Cricket live score
mps computers
Harjinder Singh

thanks again

Α number of people, particulaгly the Indians are really too thrilled,
elated and well over satisfied with the fact that almost all of the worlԀ
cup ϲricket 2011 fits shall be held in the Ιndian sub-continent.

Fanatics haƿpen to be in dream to get hold of announcement regarding the ongoing complement by
way of juѕt ɑbout ɑny dish network cricket woгld cup reference on the
market. The Engliѕh team will miss the services of
their batsman Keѵin Pietersen and faѕt bowler Stuaгt Broad throughout the tournament.

Look at my webpaǥe ipl 8 live streaming

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.