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Sat, Nov 24, 2012

New censorship on weibo

Back in October, we mentioned that weibo rolled out new semi-censorship. Apparently this is not enough. Now weibo has four different ways to censor keywords.

A. Explicit complete censorship

根据相关法律法规和政策,“[the blocked keyword]”搜索结果未予显示。

This translates into:

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

Keyword example: 六四

Note: This is the good old way of censorship since the beginning of weibo.

B. Implicit complete censorship

抱歉,未找到“[the blocked keyword]”相关结果。

This translates into:

Sorry, no relevant results could be found for [the blocked keyword].

Keyword example: 江泽民

Note: This is a brand new form of censorship. Sina weibo used to admit what they censored. Now this message will also be shown to b keywords which actually have no results such as "dsfhadslfhadsljk".

C. Explicit semi-censorship

根据相关法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。

This translates into:

According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, some of the search results can not be displayed.

Note: This method is employed around October as mentioned in the blog post.

D. Implicit semi-censorship

When you search for the keywords, only some selected results are returned. With a message at the button, stating

为了提供多样性结果,我们省略了部分相似微博,您可以点击查看全部搜索结果.。

This translates into:

Sat, Nov 10, 2012

Google unblocked again - was it a mistake or a test?

The DNS poisoning that was imposed on most Google websites yesterday appears to have been lifted. The blocking was likely reversed some time this morning. Due to the nature of DNS there is a delay before this trickles down to every ISP and every computer so if you still cannot access Google in China it's likely just a question of time. You can also try to flush your DNS cache and it should work again.

Even though the blocking of Google Search may only have lasted for 12 hours or so, it was likely the single one decision by the Great Firewall authorities affecting the most users ever. So what really happened? Here are some theories:

1. Was it a mistake?

The blocking of the worlds number one (and Chinas number two) search engine took place on a Friday night. It's possible that someone simply pressed the wrong button and accidentally DNS poisoned the wrong website. Perhaps they only meant to block mail.google.com. If it was a mistake, that would explain why it was seemingly reversed this morning. In that case, at least one employee of the Golden Shield Project must have lost their job today. However, there's one reason to believe this is not the case. The authorities didn't just block access to google.com or all subdomains that belong to it (such as mail.google.com, play.google.com, maps.google.com etc). They also DNS poisoned google.com.hk and google-analytics.com. This can't be done by accidentally hitting one button - you have to launch three separate actions. So if it wasn't a mistake, what could have happened?

Fri, Nov 09, 2012

Google.com blocked in China

Today, Nov 9, 2012, http://www.google.com and http://www.google.com.hk were blocked in China. It's the first time since we started tracking online censorship in China in February last year that this has happened. Here's what we know:

  1. The subdomains http://www.google.com, http://mail.google.com, http://google-analytics.com, http://docs.google.com, http://drive.google.com, http://maps.google.com, http://play.google.com and perhaps many more are all currently DNS poisoned in China. Instead of the real IP addresses, any lookups from China to any of these domains result in the following IP: 59.24.3.173. That IP address is located in Korea and doesn't serve any website at all.
  2. This means that none of these websites, including Google Search, currently work in China, unless you have a VPN or other cirumvention tool.
  3. Using a DNS server outside of China doesn't help. A lookup of www.google.com to 8.8.8.8 is also distorted, by the Great Firewall.
  4. So far you can still access other country versions of Google such as www.google.co.uk.

You can see an overview of different Google sites here: https://en.greatfire.org/search/google-sites. You can choose any of them and test them in real time to stay updated.

Fri, Nov 02, 2012

Google Search is also partially blocked

We just put out a story on GMail being partially blocked in China. It turns out that Google Search is suffering the same treatment. The table shows an overview of the IP addresses that are currently returned when looking up www.google.com or www.google.com.hk from China. One out of 13 is blocked. The IP address is chosen randomly when you first access google.com. If you are unlucky, a blocked IP address is chosen and you can't access Google. One quick way around it is to go to some other Google domain such as google.co.uk or google.ca.

The IP addresses used by Google Search and GMail are similar so perhaps this is just a mistake. But it's also possible that it's intentional and that even the basic Google Search will become unreliable in China from now on.

What is going on with GMail in China, and how to get around it

What Is Going On?

The URL of GMail is https://mail.google.com/mail. The subdomain mail.google.com points to four separate IP addresses, listed below. According to our latest tests, only one of these is fully working in China. The other three are fully blocked, or blocked depending on where in the country you are or which ISP you use. Interestingly, only HTTPS connections to these IP addresses are blocked. For example, you can visit http://74.125.128.19. Doing so will take you to Google Search; GMail is available on HTTPS only.

Tue, Oct 16, 2012

Exploring The Real Lies Behind The GlobalWebIndex And Lightspeed Research

Forget Twitter and Facebook – exploring the real lies behind the GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research numbers

You may have noticed we made a lot of noise about a recent GlobalWebIndex study which claimed, among other things, that despite heavy online censorship, Chinese netizens are actually very active on blocked foreign social media web sites including Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

In response to our protests and the protests of journalists who could see that the numbers did not add up, GlobalWebIndex published a blog post on their web site and shared some of the information from the report. They also shared their rationale as to why, despite these web sites being blocked, there was so much activity from China:

However, it only takes a little bit of desk research to discover that what is called the “Great Firewall” is actually much more porous than the Chinese government would like to admit. On closer inspection, Chinese users are using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), VCN (Virtual Cloud Networks) or connections at work that may be routed internationally. Crucially, this means that users won’t be picked up in analytics and will not register as being in a Chinese location at all!

For us this was probably the most upsetting claim. We agree that Chinese netizens have access to VPNs at home or through their places of work and that certainly there are Chinese who are active on these social media platforms. But we hardly think it goes to the extent that GlobalWebIndex and their survey partner Lightspeed Research claim.

Wed, Oct 03, 2012

New York Times Heavily Censored in China

The simple question: Is the New York Times blocked in China? 

The simple answer: No, http://www.nytimes.com is not blocked in China.

However, a lot of the content that the New York Times produces for China is in fact blocked.

In June this year the New York Times launched a Chinese-language edition at http://cn.nytimes.com. Unlike http://www.bbc.co.uk/zhongwen and http://www.voachinese.com it wasn't blocked, or at least not fully. However, as our monitoring of individual articles in their China section shows, many of these are fully censored. Our data currently shows that 29 out of 204 articles in the China section are blocked in China.

Adding to this, at least since September 18, the entire front page of the China section of the Chinese edition is blocked. Selected articles can still be accessed from the main front page.

Tue, Oct 02, 2012

New semi-censorship on Sina Weibo, and lots of keywords blocked and unblocked during September

New Semi-Censorship

We are currently monitoring more than 12,000 keywords on Sina Weibo, out of which around 2500 are currently blocked. When searching for any of those blocked keywords, you get the following message:

根据相关法律法规和政策,“[the blocked keyword]”搜索结果未予显示。

This translates into:

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

These keywords generate no search results at all. Recently, however, a new form of self-censorship has emerged in which some results are returned but not all (big thanks to Jason Ng at BlockedOnWeibo for letting us know). Take, for example, weibo: 八九纪念 ("remember 89") and weibo: 河蟹 ("river crab", used instead of 和谐 which means "harmony" and is used to refer to censorship). These had been fully blocked since we started monitoring them in May this year. However, sometime in September, searching for either of the two started returning some results, followed by this new message:

 根据相关法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。

which translates into:

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

An even more interesting example is weibo: 民泽江. It used to be fully blocked, but in September was partially unblocked (displaying the message quoted above). Then, at least as of October 1, it has been fully unblocked.

This new semi-censorship level resembles the one practiced by Baidu, which admits to self-censoring but still returns selected results.

Did the Chinese censors stop worrying about Google?

We continuosly monitor more than 5000 keywords on Google, of which almost 2000 are currently blocked in China. Usually this number changes with current events. For example, when http://www.bloomberg.com was blocked in June, the keyword google: bloomberg was blocked as well. In March, when there were rumors of a coup, google: 政变 was blocked. And as the Bo Xilai scandal unfolded, you could not search for google: Heywood. However, in the whole month of September, we didn't detect one single new keyword being blocked on Google. One keyword was unblocked (google: 亡国).

It's not as if the authorities didn't have anything to censor - the conflict with Japan as well as the upcoming leadership transition provide plenty of material. And indeed, they are censoring - on Sina Weibo and probably other local websites, but apparently not on Google.

Google vs Sina Weibo

Three seemingly sensitive keywords that were blocked on Sina Weibo during September are:

  1. weibo: 克强 (as in 李克强, Li Keqiang, the upcoming premier of China)
  2. weibo: 自焚 (self-immolation)
  3. weibo: 张培莉 (Zhang Peili, wife of Wen Jiabao, the current premier of China)

However, none of these keywords have been blocked on Google:

  1. google: 克强
  2. google: 自焚
  3. google: 张培莉

At the same time, four sensitive keywords that were unblocked on Sina Weibo in September are:

  1. weibo: 薄熙来 (Bo Xilai, the previous mayor of Chongqing and Politburo member who was recently ousted from the Communist Party of China)
  2. weibo: 抗议 (protest)
  3. weibo: 大使馆 (embassy)
  4. weibo: 日领馆 (Japanese Consulate)

Again, on Google, none of the keywords have changed - the first one has stayed blocked, and the other three were never blocked in the first place:

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