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

English

http://www.theglobalmail.org

English English

http://www.sueddeutsche.de

German

Chinese

http://www.lemonde.fr

French

Chinese

http://www.elpais.com

Spanish

Chinese

http://www.cbc.ca

English

English

http://www.ndr.de

German

German

http://www.lesoir.be Italian Italian
http://www.lematin.ch Swedish Swedish
http://www.newstapa.org Korean Korean
http://pcij.org English English
http://trouw.nl Dutch Dutch

The blocks are unusually severe. First of all, while the Great Firewall is capable of blocking individual articles or sections, the above websites are all entirely blocked. For BBC, they only blocked the article, not the entire website. For This is often the standard way of censoring reports. Why such a blanket block?

Update: We have found the reason for such block. Any website listed as the publishing partners for “Chinaleaks” stories by ICIJ is completely blocked. Websites not listed have individual stories related to the incident blocked or not blocked at all. We can infer that the government blocked them more for revengen than for controlling the information. Only a small percentage of Internet users in China read in English, let alone German, Spanish, etc.

Second, English websites are not usually the targets of the censors. For example, the article posted in English by SCMP is not blocked. In the case of reports of Xi Jinping and Wen Jiabao a year ago, only Chinese websites and the original English websites were affected, not other media that reported on the stories.

Perhaps the severity of the block suggests that Chinese leaders are particularly concerned about this report.

Interestingly, few Chinese versions of foreign media are covering the story. There is no mention of it on Reuters Chinese, WSJ Chinese, IBTimes ChineseNanzao. These websites have also all remained unblocked. Only NYT Chinese, which has blocked for a long time, covered the story. This suggests that the strategy of forcing the foreign press to self-censor by threatening with website blocks and visa denials is working.

We at GreatFire.org believe in a free Internet. We have created an unblockable mirror for the report in Chinese and English. Please share with all your friends behind the Great Firewall.

CORRECTION (posted Janaury 23, 2014): FT Chinese has posted a story about the ICIJ report, in English and Chinese.The individual article is blocked.

The French language website for the CBC, Radio Canada, has not been blocked and they have posted an extensive story in French about the ICIJ report.

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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.

Wed, Jan 22, 2014

Internet outage in China on Jan 21

Yesterday we witnessed one of the largest Internet outages ever in China. We have three theories about why this outage may have occurred - two related to the Falun Gong but our third theory is that the Chinese authorities set out to attack our unblockable mirror websites.

From 15:30 to 16:30 (China time) on January 21, DNS lookup to any domain would incorrectly resolve to 65.49.2.178. Websites inside and outside of China were affected. Even Baidu and Sina were inaccessible. Only software using IP directly (e.g. QQ, VPNs) worked during that time. Attempts to visit any website redirected to http://65.49.2.178, which didn’t respond during that time.  The overwhelming traffic to this IP likely crashed the server.

Timeline

Event

15:15

GFW DNS poisoning begins. First recorded instance.

15:17

Local DNS servers began to cache incorrect responses. Some large websites in China began to be affected e.g Sina Weibo.

 

Incorrect DNS continue to spread through Chinese DNS servers. Major websites including Baidu, Sina affected.

15:39

DNS poisoning lifted by GFW. But local DNS resolvers cached incorrect responses. Users continued to experience outage.

16:00

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