LinkedIn debacle may come back to haunt the Chinese authorities

There were no winners when LinkedIn announced last week that it was making adjustments to its China censorship policy. Not LinkedIn, not Chinese internet users and not even the Chinese authorities.

LinkedIn ends up with jianbing all over its face for a number of reasons. The company comes across as being tragically naive (what were they thinking when they agreed to cleanse global news feeds of sensitive Chinese news?), woefully ill-prepared (did they think nobody would notice?) and not very forthcoming (which needs more than a set of brackets to explain).

if Linkedin "has occasionally blocked Sinocism within China" why I have only received one single notice about it? @hdurzy

— Bill Bishop (@niubi) September 4, 2014

Most media reports fail to pinpoint the real reason behind LinkedIn’s censorship kowtow. LinkedIn’s “entry” into China is really about selling (mainly) recruitment advertising to China-based companies. To be able to issue official receipts and to operate a website in China, you need a local company. So LinkedIn had to open a local office and abide by local restrictions. That includes censoring content that users post on its website.

Had LinkedIn decided to forego generating revenue in China, the company would have continued to “connect Chinese professionals to the global business community” - the site was already operational in China, available in Chinese and 4 million users had found it - and, arguably, could have continued to sell recruitment advertising abroad to be delivered back into China.

Instead, they revealed to the entire world that freedom of access to information for Chinese is not as important as making a buck and that Chinese deserve to be treated as second-class global information citizens.

But the biggest loser in this episode may well be the Chinese authorities.

It’s a logical extension for the authorities to ask foreign internet companies to cleanse negative China content globally. If these companies are willing to bend over backwards to get into the country, maybe they could bend a little more.

But now any similar future requests will immediately lead to pushback and a retelling of LinkedIn’s bumbled approach. Although this still must be a tempting request for the authorities - would anything be more pleasing to them than ridding social media of all pro-Tibetan independence posts?

Tibetan Singers Imprisoned by the Chinese for .... Singing.. http://t.co/ZS07x3n9g9

— Thom Yorke (@thomyorke) December 14, 2013

But the authorities larger misstep might just be in the heavy-handedness of their approach. There are few foreign internet success stories in China and the LinkedIn debacle has added to that misery. The alternate approach is just as dim. Google stands at the opposite end of the spectrum as a company that tried different approaches to China. But all signs now point to them having given up on making progress in China.

Google: "There's nothing wrong on our end" - Shenzhen court accepts #China censorship lawsuit http://t.co/qzCaTNPmIq via @nyt

— Kieran Maynard (@KieranMaynard) September 8, 2014

But the authorities may have shown their cards too soon. Two foreign internet giants are standing in the wings watching closely. Neither of the above approaches seems appealing and only the hopelessly optimistic continue to say that “the situation will change, slowly, for the better, just wait and see”. Working with the authorities has proven fruitless.

The situation is not changing for the better. More websites are being blocked, domestic censorship is increasing and the Edward Snowden revelations have just served to entrench China’s decision-makers.

But China’s success in creating domestic internet giants is not exactly as it seems. These internet giants still rely on the global internet infrastructure if they want to serve customers in China and abroad. China’s leading companies leverage global cloud services providers to deliver web content quickly around the world.

At GreatFire.org, we are staging a battle for internet freedom in the cloud. Since we launched “FreeGoogle” in June of this year, the authorities have made consistent daily attempts to shut us down, all without success. To the contrary, our “FreeGoogle” site is used by tens of thousands of Chinese each day, we continue to free blocked content and we are seeing more instances of individuals unblocking their own websites using our technique.

As the authorities place even greater restrictions on foreign internet properties who wish to operate in China, they are giving these companies little room to manoeuvre and pushing them to adopt alternative approaches. Leveraging the global cloud by implementing collateral freedom will effectively turn the tables on the Chinese authorities. They will be left with one of two choices - to allow information to flow freely or to cut China off from the global internet. So far, we have shown that the Chinese authorities are not willing to take the latter step. Here’s hoping that they never do.

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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 (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), 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.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

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.

Thu, Nov 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

Tue, Jul 05, 2016

GreatFire.org 现在开始测试VPN在中国的速度和稳定性

在中国有一个普遍观念,如果你有一个可以使用的VPN,那么你应该保持沉默。就信息自由而言,这种观念的问题在于获取知识竟成了一种秘密。今天,我们推出一个项目,希望能够摧毁这种模型。

我们最新的网站,翻墙中心,目的在于实时提供那些能够在中国使用的翻墙方案的信息和数据。在2011年以来我们就已经开始收集在中国被屏蔽的网站,现在我们也将增加那些可用的VPN和其他翻墙工具。

我们发布翻墙中心主要有四个目的。

我们的首要目标是助长使用翻墙工具的国人的数量。通过分享我们这些工具的信息和数据,我们希望对更广泛的受众展示那些工具时可以使用的。

我们的第二个目标是通过带来工具性能的透明化来提升中国用户的翻墙体验。我们将会测试工具的速度(流行网站的加载速度)和稳定性(流行网站加载成功的程度)。

我们开发速度测试的目的是要真实反映用户的体验。当用户在网站测速时,浏览器在后台会从10个世界上最流行的网站上下载一些资源文件。根据Alexa排名,这些网站分别是Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, QQ, Twitter and Microsoft Live。速度的结果是简单的计算下载文件文件的大小和下载所需的时间。我们同样也会验证下载的文件是否完整。如果文件的内容是错误的或者在40秒内无法完成下载,我们会标记为失败。这个数据被我们用来生成另一个重要指标-稳定性。

其他的速度测试工具仅仅是通过发送数据到它们自己的服务器来测量上传和下载的速度。这种数据无法反应用户的体验,因为正常的浏览器通常会频繁的发送一系列的请求(而不是上传或下载一个大文件)到许多的服务器,而不止是一个。

我们的第二个指标 - 稳定性 - 是其他的服务通常不会测试的。一个健康的互联网连接应该达到100%的稳定性,除非有人在测试中把网线拔了。但是在中国使用翻墙工具却不是这样。任何时候连接都有可能变得不稳定或十分缓慢。根据请求的大小,最终的地点和代理的方式,一些请求有可能会失败。比较服务的稳定性要比比较速度更加重要。

你可以测试任意的翻墙工具,列表之外的也可以。中国的VPN用户也可以测试他们的工具,测试结果也会添加到数据库中。这些数据都将会对所有人开放。实时的在中国测试是非常重要的,因为VPN随时都可能被封锁或解封。我们欢迎任何的关于测试过程的反馈。有技术能力的用户也可以通过审查我们的javascript代码来获悉我们的测试是如何工作的。

我们郑重的邀请翻墙工具的开发者们向我们提供测试过程的反馈。我们的第三个目标是帮助这些开发人员改进他们的产品,让更多的选择适用于中国的顾客。此外,越多的工具可以工作,就意味着中国当局对翻墙的打击就会越难。

中国的用户都知道,在过去的18个月中当局加紧了对翻墙工具的攻击。而翻墙中心将会吹响反击的号角。反其道而行之,让这不再成为秘密。我们要鼓励人们分享翻墙工具可以工作的信息。

我们的第四个目标就是要为GreatFire.org创造收益。目前GreatFire仍然依靠世界各地的热心人士和组织的捐款。我们希望减少对这些机构的依赖,并探寻GreatFire.org自给自足的道路。用户只需到翻墙中心就能购买任意一款我们目前在测试的付费工具。GreatFire将作为这些工具在中国的经销商,因此VPN供应商会给予我们每个零售的一部分。用户也不必在中国购买这些翻墙服务。

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