Collateral Freedom FAQ

We have spent the latter part of 2013 implementing collateral freedom in China and explaining the concept to those that are interested. Here are answers to some of the most common questions surrounding our plan to end online censorship in China.


1. You are just creating mirror web sites and they will get blocked.

We are creating more than mirror web sites. What we are doing is leveraging the global cloud infrastructure by creating ‘unblockable’ mirrors via unblockable cloud services. This approach would not have been possible five years ago because Amazon and other companies offering cloud hosting did not have the critical mass of clients necessary. A critical mass is needed because China will clearly see that blocking all access to Amazon AWS, for example, would have devastating economic consequences inside of China. Five years ago, not that many people were using cloud hosting so the government could afford to block the Amazon domain - today, that is possible, but highly unlikely.

Amazon AWS clients in China include Qihu 360, Xiaomi, FunPlus Game, Mobotap, TCL, Hisense, Tiens, Kingsoft and Light in the Box.


2. Some major companies use Amazon to host their websites but they are blocked in China. How is your approach different?

That is because the urls for those companies are DNS poisoned. One of the pitfalls of our approach is that we will have to use the domain name to host all unblockable mirror web sites, like But the positives far outweigh the negatives - having an unblockable url means more than having an easy to remember but blocked website. Plus, organisations can use their social media channels to promote their new domain. While the weibos may get deleted or censored, once the message is shared, the url will also be shared and has the potential to reach a much larger audience. We have also started a directory of mirror websites that we are hosting in China on Github - the link to this directory is also unblockable. If a company wants to promote their new unblockable url, they could also purchase advertising sharing their new url that could run on Chinese language web sites.


3. China can selectively block urls, regardless of whether or not they are encrypted.

This is not true. The only way for China to block a url from an encrypted domain is to block the entire domain.


4. Companies won’t create unblockable websites in China because they have economic interests to protect.

That is something that we cannot control. We don’t know what the end will be for some of these stories (as is the case for Bloomberg). But what we can say is that advertising can be served on our unblockable mirrors, which means that ad dollars can be generated, which will certainly be of economic interest to some media organisations. Plus, how long are media organisations going to wait until they get access to China - and by that time, will it be worth it? We hope that it is not the ten year time period that Eric Schmidt believes in.


5. China will ask Amazon and others to remove your mirrors.

Amazon, Apple, GitHub and Microsoft are US companies that need to consider their reputations worldwide. The Chinese authorities will likely try to pressure them into censoring content on their behalf - it’s up to all of us to convince them that they should not. So far, Amazon has not taken down our mirror websites, GitHub has not taken down our content hosted there and Microsoft has not closed down our Azure servers - but Apple did remove our FreeWeibo app from the China App Store. The more important the content provider is, the less likely we believe it is that any of these tech companies will censor them. Would Microsoft dare to censor the New York Times?


6. China will just block Amazon, The App Store, GitHub, etc. if you take this approach.

In early 2013, GitHub was blocked in China, after it had been used to gather support for a petition to ban contributors to the Great Firewall from traveling to the US. It’s clear that the authorities had a reason to block GitHub - but after only a couple of days, they unblocked it again. Why? There was an online protest against the blocking, including voices of influential people, and GitHub is an important tool for software developers in China. The content that the authorities disapproved of has not gone away - if anything, it has grown. But this has proved that the authorities are unable to block that content.

Similarly, the authorities have tried to block our mirror websites on S3 - but they have given up. Since we are using all of these platforms to implement collateral freedom - Amazon, GitHub, the App Store and Microsoft - they also know that to effectively stop us they have to block all of them. So far, even the cost of blocking GitHub was considered too high. Nothing is certain, but this is a strong indicator that our approach can be sustained.


7. Is it illegal for companies like Amazon and Google to host these unblockable mirror sites?

It is not against Chinese law to host such websites. There have been no court orders or legal edicts that have decreed websites such as Facebook, Twitter and the New York Times to be illegal. They are secretly blocked without any jurisdictional overview. The Chinese government could publicly declare those websites to be illegal and obtain court orders to support their claim. Then they can send those court orders to Google to ask them to restrict local access to specified websites, including our mirrors. Chinese law specifies that adult websites are not permitted; we fully respect that. However, there is no law prohibiting the use of Facebook or Wikipedia. Freedom of speech is written into the Chinese constitution. By providing access to such websites, we are upholding Chinese laws, not violating them.


Do you have other questions? Feel free to email Charlie Smith and we will post your questions and our answers here.



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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.

Thu, Jun 06, 2019

Report Shines Spotlight on Apple’s Censorship Practices in China

The newest Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index makes recommendations on what companies and governments need to do in order to improve the protection of internet users’ human rights around the world. Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) works to promote freedom of expression and privacy on the internet by creating global standards and incentives for companies to respect and protect users’ rights.

In their 2019 Accountability Index, RDR looks at the policies of 24 of the world’s most important internet companies in respect to freedom of expression and privacy and highlights the companies that have made improvements and those companies that need to do more. RDR notes that:

Insufficient transparency makes it easier for private parties, governments, and companies themselves to abuse their power over online speech and avoid accountability.

In particular, the report highlights how Apple has abused their power over online speech, and notes instances of this in China. According to the report, Apple has not disclosed data around the content that it removes from its App Store when faced with requests from the government authorities.

While [Apple] disclosed data about government requests to restrict accounts, it disclosed no data about content removal requests, such as requests to remove apps from its App Store. Apple revealed little about policies and practices affecting freedom of expression, scoring below all other U.S. companies in this category.

The report makes intelligent and sensible recommendations for governments. However, the recommendations also highlight how difficult it is to have these discussions with governments like China’s.

Thu, Nov 30, 2017

About those 674 apps that Apple censored in China

Apple opened the door on its censorship practices in China - but just a crack.

Tue, May 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (, the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.


Mon, Dec 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

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