Google disrupted prior to Tiananmen Anniversary; Mirror sites enable uncensored access to information

GreatFire's first project, released in 2011, was this website, Analyzer. The site has not changed much over the years until this year! We'd like to invite you to try the new Analyzer - now called Blocky. Please let us know what you think by sending an email to support@greatfire.org.

The 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident is coming. This highlights another fierce battle in the war between China censorship authority and information flow.

Google started to encrypt search by default in China in March and currently nearly all users will be redirected to the encrypted version automatically. But prior to the anniversary of Tiananmen incident, GFW(Great Firewall of China) began to severely disrupt Google search by disrupting TCP connections to Google IPs.  The block is indiscriminate as all Google services in all countries, encrypted or not, are now blocked in China. This blockage includes Google search, images, translate, Gmail and almost all other products. In addition, the block covers  Google Hong Kong (China’s version of Google), Google.com and all other country specific versions, e.g Google France.

It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for 4 days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on.  We reported the block of Google in 2012 which lasted for 12 hours. Back then, we speculated that the Chinese censorship authority was testing public opinion, or the "block Google" button. Presumably, they have gathered enough information since 2012 to implement a full scale block this time.  It is the strictest censorship ever deployed. We condemn Chinese censorship authority for the disruptions.

There are steps that Google can take to combat this censorship, which they currently choose not to. Google can tunnel through other undisrupted Content Delivery Network services to evade the block. Google can also add censorship evading functions through its popular web browser Chrome. At the moment, even the start page of Chrome will not load in China. But Google can tweak Chrome’s code to bypass censorship.

Back in 2009, Google decided to remove itself from China so that it no longer needed to censor its content. But it seems that Google is quite happy that GFW does the censorship work for them. By not making the suggested changes above or other great ideas Google engineers are surely capable of producing,  Google is not actually providing the information they left China in 2009 to provide.

Before Google decides to make changes however, users in China can use the following method to unblock Google. They can access Google directly using https://203.208.41.144 or add the following content to hosts file.

203.208.41.144 www.google.com.hk

203.208.41.145 www.google.com.hk

The above and most other solutions include technical savvy set up of Internet circumvention tools that are beyond average users. We at GreatFire.org confront this issue directly.

We made unblockable mirror sites and Apps that can be accessed without any special tools or configuration. Currently, the mirror sites include FreeWeibo, our own project that collected and publish censored Sina Weibo and its unblockable Android app. GFW failed to block our iOS app, but Apple voluntarily took it down. FreeWeibo has a sereis of users' comments condemning the block of Google, most of which are censored.  China digital times(English/Chinese) and Pao-Pao, all of which produce highly sensitive content but cannot be blocked (of course, all original websites are blocked) without causing serious economic damages. Microsoft, Amazon, and Github have to be blocked, creating serious problems for companies located in China. If our mirror sites are not blocked during this year’s June 4th, it's fair to say that our collateral freedom approach passes one of the most rigorous tests of censorship and we're on the right track to defeating GFW and make information accessible to all.

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Mon, Aug 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire Appmaker

GreatFire (https://en.greatfire.org/), 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 (https://appmaker.greatfire.org/) 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 (https://freebrowser.org/en) 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 (http://manyvoices.news/).

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 https://applecensorship.com, 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.
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