No error here: Microsoft deploying Chinese censorship on global scale

Microsoft has responded to our research about Bing search results after initially responding with a “no comment”. We have actually already addressed most of their rebuttal in our original article. Here are the highlights. From Microsoft:

We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org. First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China. Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.

We sent our research findings to Microsoft before publishing our blog post with an explicit query as to whether or not the odd search results were the result of a technical mistake. Microsoft originally responded by saying: “Thanks for your inquiry. We have no comment on this topic.”.

Microsoft says: “[T]he results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China”. This is simply not true. Please refer to the comparison chart in our original blog post. The Guardian confirmed our testing results concerning the 达赖喇嘛 (Dalai Lama) and did their own tests for 薄熙来 (Bo Xilai). The newspaper reported:

A search on Bing in Chinese for Bo Xilai (薄熙来), the former high-flying Chinese government official now serving life imprisonment for corruption, shows equally different results. The top search result is again Baidu Baike. Wikipedia is the third entry. There are no western reports on the politician on the front page. In English the search is topped by Wikipedia, then by stories from the New York Times, BBC and Financial Times.

A Google search in Chinese starts with the Wikipedia page and then several news articles chronicling his downfall from sources including the BBC and Voice of America.

Most results are partially censored and hard to detect if you don’t read Chinese. But we selected a term that is completely censored so that even a non-Chinese reader can easily confirm that the censorship exists. Please click this link to do your own testing.


This notice translates to “Due to legal obligations imposed by Chinese laws and regulations, we have removed the results for these search terms. For more information, please see here.”

In addition, Microsoft has failed to address our point on the censorship policy for international Bing in China. We have shown that this version is heavily censored but Microsoft has again failed to comment on this issue.

With regards to the freeweibo.com homepage being absent from Bing search results, our investigation indicates that at some time in the past the page was marked as inappropriate due to low quality or adult content. After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results.

Bing aims to provide a robust set of high-quality, relevant search results to our users. In doing so, Bing has extremely high standards that respect human rights, privacy and freedom of expression.

As we explained in our blog post, we tested a search for “FreeWeibo” with safe search turned off. If the setting is off, often a search engine will return adult content. Ever with safe search “off” our index is still not shown, which runs contrary to Microsoft’s explanation. You can easily verify this for yourself. First turn off safe search, then click this link to confirm that none of the results come from FreeWeibo.com.

Microsoft’s alternate claim is that our site is “low quality”. FreeWeibo.com is widely quoted and linked to by international media such as BBC and The Guardian. The website has a Google page rank of 5 out of 10 (by way of comparison, theguardian.com has a page rank of 7/10). FreeWeibo.com would be in no way marked as spam content.

Microsoft is a signatory to the Global Network Initiative, which is an effort by a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet. As part of our commitment to GNI, Microsoft follows a strict set of internal procedures for how we respond to specific demands from governments requiring us to block access to content. We apply these principles carefully and thoughtfully to our Bing version for the People’s Republic of China.

We are happy Microsoft has signalled its intention to operate according to GNI principles, but we again reiterate our call that they release a transparency report for Bing, worldwide. We also believe that this is the perfect time for Microsoft to drop its excessive global censorship policy on any version outside of China and International bing inside China.

This story shines a negative light on both Microsoft and China. We fully expect the Chinese authorities to continue with their draconian censorship practice. But for Microsoft, this is an enormous opportunity - do the right thing and stand up to Chinese censorship now. It has damaged your credibility with customers and China’s efforts to boost its image overseas.

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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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