News

Subscribe to our mailing list
Show content from Blog | Google+ | Twitter | All. Subscribe to our blog using RSS.

Thu, Apr 05, 2012

Add an S for Uncensored Google Search in China

The Great Firewall of China censors hundreds of keywords. In the case of Google, this means that if you search for any of them the result is the infamous Connection Reset. However, if you use the encrypted version of Google, the firewall cannot filter the connection based on keywords. Accessing the encrypted version of Google from China takes a few tweaks, but it is not blocked. The reason that it's not straightforward to use is that Google redirects you to other URLs depending on what you start out with. Here's an overview:

Thu, Mar 29, 2012

How censored is Heywood?

Until a week ago, few Chinese had ever heard of Neil Heywood, and fewer still raised any questions when the 41-year-old British business consultant was found dead in his hotel room. Today, he is so famous — and such a sensitive topic — that China’s Internet censors have banned searches of Heywood’s Chinese name, Hai Wu De.

The above is taken from the Washington Post. Our tests do confirm that Neil Heywood is censored on the Internet in China. But just how censored? Here's an overview:

Baidu

baidu: Neil Heywood

baidu: Heywood

baidu: 海伍德 (his Chinese name)

Google

google: Neil Heywood

google: Heywood

google: 海伍德

Weibo

weibo: Neil Heywood

weibo: Heywood

weibo: 海伍德

Wikipedia

en.wikipedia: Neil Heywood

en.wikipedia: Heywood

zh.wikipedia: 海伍德

 

Click any of the keywords above for detailed results or test any other keyword.

Mon, Mar 26, 2012

Government reset - Hu's blocked and who's not in the Chinese Politburo

China's top leadership body is the Politburo which has 25 members. Of these, nine make up the Standing Committee which is the Chinese government's most important decision-making group. Seven of the nine are expected to be replaced this year. One of the candidates to fill these vacancies, Bo Xilai, was recently ousted in a scandal. Not surprisingly, much of the reporting on this incident is censored in China. More surprising, perhaps, is that all other members of the Politburo are censored on the Chinese Internet.

The following is a summary of all Politburo members and whether they are censored on Baidu, Google and Wikipedia, searching for their names in Chinese or Pinyin, respectively. Censorship on Baidu is marked in yellow and refers to confirmed self-censorship. Censorship on Google and Wikipedia is marked in red and refers to complete blocking of those pages. You can click on either to get more info on the results, or to test again in real time.

The discrepancy in results between Chinese character searches and searches in Pinyin may shed a little light on who is deemed to be a true danger when it comes to censorship.

 

Tue, Mar 20, 2012

Facebook, Google Plus, Uncensored Search etc without a VPN

GreatFire.org's mission is to bring transparency to online censorship in China and to that end we are continuously making our own improvements to how we monitor blocked searches and key words. This past week we launched a new version of our web site where we now provide real-time searches so concerned netizens can keep up to date with information which is being censored via the Great Firewall of China.

We are also fortunate in that we have a core of super users who are constantly and consistently testing our technology to keep abreast of censorship in China. After we launched the new version of the site, we received feedback from a user via Twitter:

Congrats on ur update. But it seems connection reset for https is not detected by ur server. e.g https://en.greatfire.org/https/www.youtube.com

After receiving this message we logged on to Facebook, checked out Google Plus and did some searches on Google, specifically for freedom and 六四. What's so special about that? These websites and searches are blocked in China but we were able to access them without using a VPN or proxy, the tools people commonly use to get around this censorship.

Sat, Mar 17, 2012

New Version of GreatFire.org

We are very pleased to unveil a new version of GreatFire.org today. Here are some things we've been working on in an effort to improve the web site and to bring transparency to online censorship in China. 

Real Time Testing 

You can now test whether any URL is blocked or restricted in China in real time. Just enter any website in the main search field on the top of this page and click Test Now. Or, when browsing a report on a particular URL, you can request to have it retested immediately by clicking Test Now on its page. This is the first time that real-time monitoring of key words in China has ever been publicly available. Other web sites share information about key words which may have been blocked in the past but which are now unblocked (or vice versa). Our real-time service will allow visitors to the site to monitor blocked key words in relation to breaking news stories in China. Visitors will also gain insight into anomalies that sometimes occur with the Great Firewall including the ability to see if blocked sites like Facebook and Twitter happen to be open in China for short periods of time. 

Percentages 

We now report blocks and restrictions as percentages over the last 30 days. For example, if a URL has been tested 10 times in the last 30 days, and as a result of those tests the connection was reset 5 times and the download speed was slower than 5 kbps 2 times, our report would state that the web site is 50% blocked (5 /10) and 20% otherwise restricted (2 / 10). This means that our reports will be more reliable by providing more information about how exactly these sites are being blocked or throttled. There are frequent glitches in the Great Firewall and the previous version of our website reported only on the latest status of a web site, which could give distorted impressions. 

Sat, Feb 04, 2012

Is the Great Firewall blocking outgoing traffic only?

Connection reset. That is the famous response shown to web users in China when they are trying to access one of the over 2600 websites and searches that have been blocked by the authorities. But what is actually blocked and what is causing the connection disruption? Our research suggests that the Great Firewall (GFW) does not filter any incoming data, but only the outgoing traffic.

It is often said that the GFW imposes three types of censorship. The first one is DNS poisoning. For example, this happens when users in China attempt to access facebook.com. The name servers return an incorrect IP address which doesn't work. The browser tries to load the website for a certain period of time until the whole exercise 'times out'.

The second type of censorship is keyword-based. For example, if one tries to search on Google for facebook, freedom  or some of the other 250+ blocked searches, the connection is immediately reset. In addition, users are restricted from accessing any content on the same website for a minute or so.

The third type is supposed to be content based. Regardless of what was searched for or the address that was entered, if the content contains certain keywords, it is supposed to be blocked. This is where our findings become relevant. They suggest that the GFW doesn't interfere at all with the content that is sent back to the web user in China.

Tue, Jan 03, 2012

Gmail is getting faster but still not as fast as dial-up

Many in China have complained that Gmail is so slow that it is almost impossible to use (see our original story from March 2011 - Gmail now 45 times slower than QQ). We have continued to gather data on the Gmail situaiton in light of Google's continued operation in China. With more data we can now show how the situation has developed since March. The results are clear in this chart:

All foreign webmail providers are considerably slower than domestic competitors (QQ is included for comparison). Out of Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, a distressed Yahoo, whose local partner in China is Alibaba, is consistently the fastest free foreign email provider. Hotmail has at times challenged Gmail to a race to the bottom. Using the same comparison as in March, Gmail is now only 9 times slower than QQ and has seen a considerable improvement in speed since September.

One way to put the speed of Gmail into perspective is to compare today's access speed with old dial-up modems, for those that remember. In the 1990s, they provided speeds up to 56 kbps, or roughly 7000 bytes per second. That is considerably faster than the average speed of either Gmail or Hotmail, when accessed from within China in 2011.

Apart from speed, the main problem with Gmail in China is instability. Rather than blocking the service outright, it seems that the authorities have chosen to impose occasional, random outages. Looking back over the year (from March onwards), we can see the following:

Surfing the Internet in China slower on Sundays

Browsing websites is often a slow and frustrating experience in China. Apart from blocking over 2600 websites and searches, the Great Firewall also imposes a serious bottleneck on speed. There have been rumors that the Internet is especially slow on Sundays. Analyzing more than 80,000 tests executed by our system from March to November this year, our data seems to confirm this suspicion.

The tests consist of downloading the front page of each of the world's 500 most popular websites, as defined by Alexa. Apart from aberrations in March and June, download speeds on Sundays have consistently been between 8 and 25% slower than the average of the other days of the week. Here's the full test data summary (all speeds in bytes/second):

Pages