Chinese developers forced to delete softwares by police

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What happened?

ShawdowSocks

On August 22, an open source project called ShadowSocks was removed from GitHub.

ss.png

According to the project’s author, the police contacted him and asked him to stop working on the tool and to remove all of the code from GitHub.

police.png

He later removed the reference of the police, presumably under the pressure of the police.
edited.png

After the news, many Chinese and foreign developers, as well as ShadowSocks users, paid tribute to the author. As a result of this attention, ShadowSocks became the top trending project on GitHub.

Github.png

 

GoAgent

GoAgent’s Github repo is also removed today (Aug 25, 2015). GoAgent was the most popular circumvention tool in China. It relied on Google App Engine to tunnel traffic across GFW. It was hosted on Google Code and later moved to Github. The author phuslu deleted the repo without explanation but changed his account description to be “Everything that has a beginning has an end”.

 

What is ShadowSocks?

According to its official site, which is still running at the time of writing, ShadowSocks

is “A secure socks5 proxy, designed to protect your Internet traffic”. It is one of the most popular circumvention tools in China and is on par with VPNs and GoAgent .

ShadowSocks is merely a protocol, just like a VPN, that secures Internet traffic.  A similar example is torrenting. Torrenting pirate content is illegal, but the torrent protocol is totally legal and has many legitimate uses.The protocol is completely open-source and the author made no financial gain from the project. The author, whose user name is clowwindy, did not provide any service to let Chinese netizens bypass Internet censorship. Despite this, the police visited his home and pressured him to remove the project.
 

Trend of crackdown on tools

Since January, 2015, the authorities have stepped up their control over VPNs in China. This trend has continued into the summer and recently other circumvention tool developers have encountered problems.

In a recent statement, Qujing, another circumvention tool, said that the authorities told them that Internet users in China can only use legitimate means to get information. All services offered by Qujing closed down on July 28, 2015.  

Unlike ShadowSocks, Qujing is a commercial service. It sells a service similar to a VPN to bypass censorship.

Other famous VPN vendors have also shut down their websites after pressure from the authorities.

 

Other people who are mirroring the ShadowSocks code

Others have mirrored the ShadowSocks code and those mirrors are still available. However, if the author heeds the police warning and stops work on ShadowSocks, no updates will be made to the code. However, since the code is open source, other developers may take up the cause and continue to improve ShadowSocks, especially given the attention that this incident has generated in China.

https://github.com/shadowsocks-backup/shadowsocks

https://github.com/AirScr/shadowsocks

 

Be Careful

This incident with ShadowSocks makes it clear that the Cyberspace Administration of China is working closely with state security and local police to further Xi Jinping’s crackdown on internet freedom in China. We strongly encourage all developers who are operating in the internet freedom space in China to stay anonymous. This should include choosing to continue your work on an anonymous basis.

 

FreeBrowser

Though ShadowSocks is no longer maintained, it will still continue to work for the near future. But we recommend users explore other alternatives. Our own circumvention tool, FreeBrowser,  has never been blocked. You can download FreeBrowser via either of the following links:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.greatfire.freebrowser

https://github.com/greatfire/wiki

We will continue to develop and mitigate new censorship methods created by GFW. We work anonymously and will not be shut down by the Chinese government.  

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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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