China just blocked thousands of websites

The Chinese censorship authorities have DNS poisoned *edgecastcdn.net, which means all subdomains of edgecastcdn.net are blocked in China. EdgeCast is one of the largest Content Delivery Networks (CDN) in the world and provides its cloud services to thousands of websites and apps in China.

We have acknowledged all along that our method of unblocking websites using “collateral freedom” hinges on the gamble that the Chinese authorities will not block access to global CDNs because they understand the value of China being integrated with the global internet. However, we can now reveal publicly that the authorities are doing just that - attempting to cut China off from the global internet.

We have seen instances of “collateral damage” due to “collateral freedom” over the past few days and have received emails from some smaller website owners wondering why their non-sensitive sites are being blocked by the great firewall.

What's going on?

The disruption to EdgeCast’s service was noted by the company on their website on November 14, 2014, although we noticed a problem on November 12 and the first poisoning on the 13th. The company's status update still appears on their site:

Please be advised, we are experiencing issues with content delivery in the China region due to suddenly increased restrictions imposed by the Chinese Government. If you are receiving reports from end users not able to view content from within China, please contact our network Operations center to discuss the options available to you.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.26.20.png

Some of the recent victims of collateral damage, all EdgeCast clients, include:

Sony Mobile’s global and Chinese sites are both blocked.

The Atlantic will, sadly, not be able to claim that their website was blocked due to the aggressive nature of their reporting on China.

The project website of Drupal (drupal.org) is blocked. Drupal is used as a back-end framework for many websites worldwide. Administrators of those websites in China will face disruptions when trying to update Drupal or install extensions.

Firefox browser add-ons are another victim. Firefox's addons.cdn.mozilla.net is hosted on EdgeCast. Firefox users in China will not be able to install any add-on for Firefox.

Gravatar is used by many websites to show profile images. The images are hosted on EdgeCast and any website that uses Gravatar in China will be displaying broken images. Here is what a typical Chinese user will see when accessing those websites.

Other blocked websites include speedtest.net and deviantart.com. It is hard to tell what websites may be affected because different sites might have different elements (i.e. images) that rely on EdgeCast. Anybody who appears on the EdgeCast customer list is potentially affected. Some client names appear in the screenshot below.

edgecast.png

Why?

The great firewall (GFW) is attempting to block access to our collateral freedom mirror sites, which are hosted in the global cloud infrastructure. GFW cannot distinguish traffic to our mirror sites and other traffic to the cloud provider which means that they cannot block access to our mirror sites without blocking access to the all sites hosted by the CDN. We are forcing the authorities to make a decision between allowing uncensored access to the global internet or blocking global CDNs all together, which will come at a significant economic cost.

In the case of EdgeCast, the authorities have chosen to block access to their service altogether and as a result, they have taken down tens of thousands of websites in one foul swoop. The blocking of such a considerable number of websites in one instance will likely result in significant economic loss as many businesses will be impacted.

EdgeCast was recently acquired by Verizon, whose board directors include senior executives from companies that have made significant investments in China including Royal Dutch Shell, Proctor & Gamble and Deere & Company.

If the authorities did not anticipate what damage the blocking of EdgeCast would inflict, they have likely been alerted by the many companies that use EdgeCast in China. This action comes at a bad time for the Chinese authorities. This week, they are hosting the World Internet Conference and the blocking of EdgeCast will likely be a hot topic of discussion. We call on the Chinese authorities to lift the restrictions on EdgeCast immediately.

Update

EdgeCast removed the status update on its website, but have published a blog post about their current problems in China: 

We have been hearing from our CDN and Monitoring partners throughout the industry and our own customers that more sites, CDNs and networks are being filtered or blocked by the Great Firewall of China. This week we’ve seen the filtering escalate with an increasing number of popular web properties impacted and even one of our many domains being partially blocked… with no rhyme or reason as to why.

At Verizon EdgeCast we have put policies in place to help our customers mitigate the effects of this most recent filtering but expect this to be an ongoing issue for our customers seeking to reach Chinese users (users in China). For any customers who are seeing their delivery impacted, please log in to your EdgeCast portal. Here you will find instructions on your portal home page on how to best mitigate filtering or blocking.

For those of our customers who are frustrated by this, we share your frustration, as does the whole content delivery and hosting industry. Rest assured that we stay committed to work with our global ISP partners and do our best to mitigate the effects of these filtering policies to ensure a clear path to your users and customers in China.

 

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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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