Google Can Bring an End to Censorship in 10 Days. Here's how.

On November 20, 2013, Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, was quoted as saying during a speech in Washington:

“We can end government censorship in a decade. The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everything.”

Another report on the same speech notes:

He said he thinks there will be movements from Chinese citizens using technology that country’s leaders won’t be able to control or stop, such as the campaigns in favor of gay rights and same-sex marriage that developed within the U.S.

“You cannot stop it if it’s a good idea broadly held,” Schmidt said. “That’s how China will change.”

If we are to take Mr. Schmidt seriously, we must ask what Google is doing in practice in the most censored of all Internet markets: China. The answer, unfortunately, is disappointing. Over the last few years, all that Google has seemingly done in China is to put up a warning to users trying to search for blocked keywords - and even that feature was later removed. What’s more, anti-censorship and anti-surveillance technology that has been rolled out on Google Search in other parts of the world have been withheld from the country where it would matter the most. Encrypted-by-default search was rolled out in the US quickly after the NSA revelations, but not in China where users are not only monitored but thousands of keywords are blocked altogether.

While Google has stopped moving the boundaries in China, other players have made a difference. The code-sharing site Github uses encrypted-only access and, perhaps not intentionally, broke the pattern of Internet control in China. When the website was used for spreading circumvention tools and even an appeal asking the White House to ban anyone working on the Great Firewall from traveling to the US, the authorities predictably moved to block the website. What was not predictable was the outcry that followed, given the importance of Github as a tool to developers and - crucially - businesses. A couple of days later, Github was unblocked, and has remained unblocked since. That set a groundbreaking example for what would become known as Collateral Freedom.

Github is not on a mission to end online censorship in China. We are, and earlier this week, we successfully unblocked the Reuters Chinese website which had been blocked on November 15. We also unblocked the China Digital Times website, which has been blocked in China for years and earlier created mirrors for our FreeWeibo project. Almost immediately, these mirrors got thousands of visits a day from China. But we are just a small team of activists with very limited resources. If anyone has the power to implement this technology widely it’s Google. Here’s what they could do to effectively end online censorship in China, not in ten years, but in just ten days:

1. Google needs to first switch its China search engine ( to HTTPS by default. It has already done this in the US and in other markets but not in China. What this essentially means is that for Chinese netizens using Google, they will be taken to, the encrypted version of the search engine. By using the encrypted version, the great firewall of China cannot selectively block search results on thousands of sensitive terms.

2. While we provide a pretty comprehensive list of websites that are blocked in China, Google holds the best list of blocked websites, everywhere in the world. If the website that a user tries to visit from the search results on Google is blocked in the country that the user is in, Google should redirect the user to a mirrored version of the same website hosted by Google.

That’s it. Two simple steps and Google can end online censorship by the end of this month in China. Quite possibly they could end online censorship just about everywhere in the world before the new year. Forget about not doing evil - this would be something that we could all celebrate.

Critics of our approach will say that the "do it, they might not block you" argument is tenuous at best. But that is not what we are saying. What we are saying is:

“Google! Do it! If they don't block you, freedom wins. If they do block you, there will be much more opposition to censorship inside China and the system will be forced to change, thus freedom wins too!”

Win-win. If the authorities could not stand up to Github - Github!? - then what chance do they have against Google.

We are gambling with Google’s stack that they are big enough and important enough that the Chinese authorities would not dare block it in mainland China completely. They tried it once before and backed down after a day. They have sometimes made Google services like Gmail excruciatingly difficult to use. But given how essential Google’s services are to so many individuals and businesses, blocking the company entirely would have immediate and disastrous economic consequences.

The Github story provides a precedent for our willingness to bet the house. On that morning in January, when developers woke up to find that Github had been blocked, they were outraged. Public pleas were made with the government to restore service. These were not the normal pleas that censorship authorities were used to receiving. This was about dollars and yuan - and everybody in China understands the power of making money. After three days, and a likely confirmation of the economic damage that was being caused, the Chinese authorities restored access to Github.

Github is a very important service for developers around the world. But its importance pales in comparison to Google. Try hard to imagine what it would be like if all of a sudden everything Google just instantly disappeared. Goodbye to search, farewell Chrome, your personal Gmail account is gone and you may not be able to access your work email. You will have to find another translation engine. You will be desperately hunting down important photos (Picasa) and documents (Docs) on your computer. Your clients will be calling you to ask why your website is down at about the same time you notice that yesterday your online store brought in absolutely no revenue.

Our two step approach is not technically complicated. In the past, we have repeatedly asked Google to make its search engine HTTPS by default but it took Edward Snowden and a bunch of files to make Google do this quietly for the US market.

User Input What you get in china What you get in the u.s

Every time somebody conducts a search on Google and clicks a link that should take them to a website only to find that it is blocked, Google knows that the site is blocked within the cross-site tracking of Google analytics. They also have an index of the entire content of the internet. It would be easy for Google to make a change to its search engine, so that when a person clicks on a link that Google knows is blocked, they would redirect that user to an unblocked version of the page, hosted on an unblockable proxy. They could also add a small indication in their search results which would basically say: “This page is blocked in your country, but we have taken the liberty to protect your liberty by redirecting you to a mirror of this page”. Google is already half way there. Google caches most Internet pages and provides them to users. The cache is hosted on a separate domain, which is blocked in China. Google can simply host the cache on a subpath, say (and in country specific domains) to bypass the block. The great firewall will no longer be able to prevent visitors from China accessing this cache without blocking Google entirely.

Again, this is a big gamble on Google’s part. But the Chinese authorities have not moved to block the three mirrors we have created so far for FreeWeibo, Reuters and China Digital Times. The window of opportunity is open for Google to make its move.

We used technology to create our mirrors. It did not take us long to mirror both the Reuters and the China Digital Times websites. Google could do what we did in the blink of an eye. We also believe that they could make Mr. Schmidt’s dream a reality and truly end online censorship once and for all. We estimate it would take a small team at Google about ten days of work - but this is Google we are talking about. They could likely do this over late night tofu pizza.

The simplicity of our solution, however, begs other questions. Why have they not done this before? Google made somewhat of an effort to be diplomatic about their entry into China. When they decided that they would make a partial pullout from China, their announcement was a little less diplomatic. Google knows that they can do this and that there will be nothing that the Chinese authorities can do to stop this short of completely blocking their service. So why have they not pushed the envelope with China, especially when China pushed first?

Google still has three offices in China (in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou). Is Google worried that these offices will be closed down? They may be worried about protecting the safety of their employees in China (as David Drummond alluded to in his March, 2010 blog post). But surely Google could do everything in their power to help employees try to emigrate to other Google locations and, at the very least, they could help their employees find new jobs in China. Are they worried that their employees will be in danger if Google decided to make such a change to how it operates in China?

Is Google worried about the revenue it is generating from clients in China? Perhaps, but their current 3% market share in search pales in comparison to the revenue the company generates in other markets. In reality, if the company does make the changes we are proposing, they will have more chances to make money from advertising in the China market.

There must be Google employees who have already proposed doing what we have suggested above. Why has Google not made this move? Maybe Mr. Schmidt feels that it is his responsibility, as the Executive Chairman of the world’s biggest and most famous internet company, to speak out on causes that he, the co-founders of Google and Google employees feel are important. But peering down from his pedestal. Mr. Schmidt should not lose sight of his company’s own ability to bring about this change.



More Blog Posts

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

Thu, Aug 10, 2023

1.4 million people used FreeBrowser to circumvent the Great Firewall of Turkmenistan

Since 2021, the authorities in Turkmenistan have taken exceptional measures to crack down on the use of circumvention tools. Citizens have been forced to swear on the Koran that they will not use a VPN. Circumvention tool websites have been systematically blocked. Arbitrary searches of mobile devices have also taken place and have even targeted school children and teachers.

The government has also blocked servers hosting VPNs which led to “near complete” internet shutdowns on several occasions in 2022. Current reports indicate that 66 hosting providers, 19 social networks and messaging platforms, and 10 leading content delivery networks (CDNs), are blocked in the country. The government presumably is unconcerned about the negative economic impact that such shutdowns can cause.

Fri, Mar 18, 2022

Well-intentioned decisions have just made it easier for Putin to control the Russian Internet

This article is in large part inspired by a recent article from Meduza (in Russian).

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian users have had problems accessing government websites and online banking clients. Browsers began to mark these sites as unsafe and drop the connection. The reason is the revocation of digital security certificates by foreign certificate authorities (either as a direct consequence of sanctions or as an independent, good will move); without them, browsers do not trust sites and “protect” their users from them.

However, these actions, caused - or at least triggered by - a desire to punish Russia for their gruesome actions in Ukraine, will have long-lasting consequences for Russian netizens.

Digital certificates are needed to confirm that the site the user wants to visit is not fraudulent. The certificates contain encryption keys to establish a secure connection between the site and the user. It is very easy to understand whether a page on the Internet is protected by a certificate. One need just look at the address bar of the browser. If the address begins with the https:// prefix, and there is a lock symbol next to the address, the page is protected. By clicking on this lock, you can see the status of the connection, the name of the Certification Authority (CA) that issued the certificate, and its validity period.

There are several dozen commercial and non-commercial organizations in the world that have digital root certificates, but 3/4 of all certificates are issued by only five of the largest companies. Four of them are registered in the USA and one is registered in Belgium.

Mon, Aug 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire AppMaker

GreatFire (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 (

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, 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.

Subscribe to our blog using RSS.


But surely it's trivial for the chinese authorities to just block *.google.* altogether and suddenly you don't even have the option for using google or any of it's services.

This all nothing more than PR. Microsoft and friends can solve censorship in half a day. All they need to do is roll out an update that enable Opportunistic IPSec to all Windows users and server.

This function is already built, the amount of work Microsoft has to do is minimal. It's just a matter of making sure every (or most users and services) enable it.

Of course this will never happen because it wouldn't just mess with the Chinese Great Firewall, it would also interfere with the NSA's work.

The Chinese authorities have made Google unattractive enough that it only has a 3% market share in China. Youtube is completely inaccessible in China. How "crucial" can it be?

Putting the cache under is a security risk for Google because of the cached content will operate under same (sub)domain rules. Just saying; there's no need to get so technical in the article.

Surely google china will be closed entirely. What a stupid idea! You don't Know China.

When I go to Google China, it's https by default. So did they change something in the past few days?

"But surely it's trivial for the chinese authorities to just block *.google.* altogether and suddenly you don't even have the option for using google or any of it's services."

Bingo. As I read this article, I was waiting for this question to be addressed, and it was never really answered to my satisfaction.

Saying "Google is too big and important to block" overlooks two key points:

1) the Party treats control over information as an issue of existential importance, and;

2) there are a number of viable "second-best" options for the Chinese internet user performing a search. Many Chinese friends of mine actually prefer Baidu.

So please explain to me: who is the constituency who would raise a hue and cry such that the Party--confronted with what it would perceive as an existential threat to its existence--would back down and unblock Google's main search page?

I am by no means arguing against efforts to circumvent, damage, or destroy the GFW. I find its existence appalling. But I'm also disturbed by articles such as this one, which present facile solutions to complicated problems, employing lazy logic and unsupported assumptions to cast companies such as Google (which seems at least to be TRYING to do the right thing) in the ill-fitting role of bad guy; or if not bad guy, then at least an enabler.

Was this article run by the advisory board? Given the level of subtlety and understanding on display in Rebecca MacKinnon's writings on the Chinese internet, I find it hard to believe that she would endorse this article's conclusions wholesale.

"existential threat to its existence"

redundancy win is redundant


The mess and the stink were not worth the trouble or the savings.
Not once did we take into consideration the cost of these dragons.
It comes in two forms: juvenile (usually found in ferrets under the
age of 14 months) and classic, which is usually found in middle aged and older ferrets.

Here is my web page - crimsonchilla

Hi, for all time i used to check web site posts here early in the morning, for the
reason that i love to find out more and more.

Check out my web site - agen bola

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about tarnally. Regards

Feel free to surf to my page origin ea

Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic however , I'd figured I'd ask.
Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa?
My website discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I
feel we could greatly benefit from each
other. If you might be interested feel free to send
me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
Terrific blog by the way!

Also visit my web blog - deer hunter 2014 cheats basis

inspired a lot from this post am following this blog regularly and found very good for bookmarking thanks admin
new year sms in hindi 2015
happy new year sms 2015
happy new year 2015 wallpapers
happy new year 2015 quotes
happy new year 2015
happy new year wishes 2015

How can you write a post about Google ending censorship when YouTube comments is so heavily censored? If you create a comment on the la clippers channel about matchfixing in sport, the comment gets blocked. Surely freedom of speech means being allowed to make any comment. Google/YouTube has actually made commenting highly censored and easier to manage by paid shills.

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
Harjinder Singh
thanks again

Hello to all, it's really a ice for me tto pay a visit this wweb page, it includes useful Information.

Look at my web blog: steam games

Preferred on the application, and also tinderapptips after that you could swipe for like profiles.

The video games are all various as well as intriguing. sumdoglogin the adaptability to select from 25 various video games to exercise.

Also start introducing the app on your gadget the following time we completed download and install the Live NetTV

Friend, this web site might be fabolous, i just like it. internet

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.