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Tue, Oct 15, 2013

OpenDoor Shut in Apple's Chinese App Store

The popular VPN app OpenDoor was removed from the Chinese app store in August of this year. We wanted to write about this censorship then but feared that our own app would be censored in retaliation from Apple.

Wed, Oct 02, 2013

Decrypt Weibo

***Click here to start decrypting censored weibos now***

Frequent Sina Weibo users will have no doubt seen this message before:

抱歉,此微博不适宜对外公开。如需帮助,请联系客服 .”

This message translates as:

“Sorry, this weibo is not suitable for the public. Please contact customer support for help.”  

“Not suitable for the public” is just an euphemism for censored. The weibo most frequently subjected to this kind of treatment focus on discussions of current and topical events.

Weibo users will see this message often when viewing their own timelines, conducting searches on Sina Weibo or when viewing someone’s profile page. The retweet of the censored weibo is however sometimes not censored. Weibo users are thus left with an intriguing comment but have no way to view the original weibo.

In an effort to solve this problem, is pleased to announce the launch of Decrypt Weibo which will make an effort to address this problem. Now, when Sina Weibo users stumble upon such messages, they can click the posted time on the lower left corner and obtain a link like

Sun, Aug 04, 2013

Hackers, bloggers and professors team up to tap into blocked microblog content

The stated-sponsered newspaper Global Times published an article about Weibo censorship on July 28th 2013 both in print and electronicallly. The article was removed from the website two days later.  The article is reproduced below.

Update on Aug 12: According to The Diplomat,  "A source close to the matter inside the Global Times tells The Diplomat, "After Kaifu Lee tweeted it on Weibo, it got too much attention and got on the authorities' radar." The same source also confirms that the propaganda department did play a role in taking it down." 

We at also contacted the Global Times in early August regarding the deletion of the article, but all we got was "[Auto Reply] Your message has been received" and nothing more.

Hackers, bloggers and professors team up to tap into blocked microblog content

Global Times | 2013-7-28 19:13:01
By Xuyang Jingjing

With over 500 million registered users and over 46 million daily active users, Sina Weibo is the largest and most influential social media platform in China. It has also become known as a fostering ground for discussions with a more liberal slant.

But what is not allowed to be discussed on Weibo perhaps says just as much as what can be. There are a number of projects that aim to uncover content blocked on Weibo. Most of the people behind such efforts are China watchers based overseas or foreigners living in China. While they may have different approaches and backgrounds, their efforts are successful in bringing this vanished content back to light.

Mon, Jun 10, 2013

Wikimedia Foundation says it doesn't hold Chinese readers in any less regard - we disagree

Matthew Roth, Spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, responds to our recent Wikipedia drops the ball on China - not too late to make amends article:

The Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t hold any readers of our projects in any less regard than others. Our mission is to bring the knowledge contained in the Wikimedia projects to everyone on the planet. There is no strategic consideration around how we can make one or another language project more accessible or readable in one part of the world or another. We do not have control over how a national government operates its censorship system. We also do not work with any national censorship system to limit access to project knowledge in any way.

It is worth noting the Greatfire blog post makes some incorrect assumptions about Wikimedia culture - including incorrect titling of some Wikimedia Foundation staff (e.g. Sue Gardner is the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia -- Wikipedia is written by tens of thousands of volunteers and has no director and no explicit hierarchy). There is also an incorrect assertion that Jimmy Wales has a direct role in working with our staff in making changes to core infrastructure. Of course Jimmy plays a role in the conversation as a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, but he is participating in the conversation along with anyone else from the volunteer editor community.

Mon, Jun 03, 2013

China's Internet: Now a giant invisible cage

Our story last Friday about new Sina Weibo censorship tactics has attracted a lot of attention. In this story we ask the harder questions: Why would Sina start testing new censorship tactics at this time and what prompted this action?


In summary, Sina's new censorship controls will:

  • mitigate user criticism of Sina's censorship policy
  • block information without exposing the importance attached to the information by the authorities through the mere act of censorship
  • block information in a way where users will likely not actively try to get around the block because they won't know it exists
  • create an image of Sina Weibo (and perhaps the Chinese Internet) as an open and welcoming forum with little censorship and bucketfuls of freedom of speech

Zhu Ling

It looks like the authorities finally learned their lesson after blocking information about the Thallium poisoning case of Zhu Ling. The censorship of this case is extremely interesting as the original incident took place in 1994. It aroused interest again after news about a recent poisoning incident at Fudan University. Strangely, authorities began to delete news articles posted on major Chinese media and blocked searches on Weibo and Google. This act of censorship actually creating more outcry than the case itself. Many Weibo users believed that the authorities were covering up discussion about the issue to protect the suspect, who comes from a family that has held senior posts in the government. After all, why would the authorities censor discussion about a 1990s murder case?

Wikipedia drops the ball on China - not too late to make amends

What happened?

From October 2011, Wikipedia started to fully support HTTPS connections on all language versions. This meant that for the Chinese language Wikipedia, the Great Firewall of China (GFW) could not selectively block sensitive content. This also meant that hundreds of articles that are blocked on the HTTP version of Wikipedia, were freely accessible to Chinese internet users if they simply added an ‘S’ behind HTTP.

On May 31, 2013, GFW began to block the encrypted version of Wikipedia through port blocking. HTTPS connections are usually established on port 443 while HTTP connections are on port 80. GFW only blocks Wikipedia’s IP on port 443.

All language versions of the encrypted version of Wikipedia are also blocked. See the testing data on our system for Chinese WikipediaEnglish Wikipedia and Wikipedia.

Consequence of the block

The HTTPS version of Wikipedia is blocked while the HTTP version is not. This method forces users inChina to use the unencrypted HTTP version, which is subject to keyword filtering; hundreds of articles are blocked including articles on Tiananmen Square protests.


It surprises us that GFW took one and a half years to respond to the support of HTTPS on Wikipedia. One explanation of the slow reaction is that Wikipedia by default uses HTTP and only a minority of visitors to the site would use HTTPS.

Fri, May 31, 2013

Sina testing subtle censorship ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

What happened?

On May 31, 2013 at 7am, we observed that searching for keywords that are normally blocked, for example, “六四事件” (June 4th incident), surprisingly returned some results and no censorship notice. This temporary lift of censorship ended at 9am but started and stopped a few more times into early afternoon, as if literally somebody was flipping a switch on and off at Sina headquarters.

Update on June 2: Sina is still constatnly swtiching between those two method.

Update on June 8: From June 3-4th and onwards, Sina Weibo seems to switch back to explicit compelte block for those keywords.

Change in Tact

To understand what is happening you need to be familiar with Sina’s various censorship methods. We observed and reported last year that Sina had implemented new tactics to censor particular keyword searches. Just days before the June 4th anniversary, Sina is again tweaking its censorship mechanisms. During the morning hours of May 31, Sina completely abandoned its old style, explicit approach to censorship, which displayed a message but no search results:

“According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for [the blocked keyword] can not be displayed.”

No, Sina has not suddenly decided to fully support freedom of speech. On the contrary, it would appear that Sina is using more advanced and subtler methods to censor search results. All keywords mentioned below are normally explicitly and completely blocked. But each behaved a little bit differently on the morning of May 31.

Sat, May 18, 2013


原载于荷兰在线,文:Percy Alpha。授权在本站发布。



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• …....
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