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Sun, Nov 17, 2013

Look Ma! I can see through the great firewall!

Today we have decided to take the battle against online censorship in China to a new level.

On Friday, November 15, we broke the news that the websites for Reuters Chinese and Chinese Wall Street Journal were both blocked in China. Tests on our servers confirmed those blocks. 

It appears that the block is related to the New York Times story published on November 14 concerning the relationship between JPMorgan Chase and Lily Chang (also known as Wen Ruchun), the daughter of former Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao.

Reuters Chinese published news about the story on November 14, which is probably the reason the site was blocked.

In response to this block, we have just launched a mirror site for Reuters China, which is accessible here:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/cn.reuters/index.html

This website is accessible from within China without the use of any circumvention tools. 

PLEASE NOTE: We have created this mirror website without seeking the approval of Reuters ahead of time. This mirror website was created without Reuters’ knowledge. If Reuters ask us to remove this website, we will do so immediately.

We have already used this method or mirroring for our own blocked website, FreeWeibo.com:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/freeweibo/index.html

Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Tom Skype is dead. Long live Microsoft surveillance.

There is a special version of Skype for China which monitors user conversations and reports flagged conversations automatically. We wrote an extensive blog post last year on this subject. Since Skype launched its “partnership” with TOM, it has been nearly impossible to download the original (international) version of Skype as skype.com and all related domains are redirected to skype.tom.com, the Chinese partner's website. Microsoft intentionally redirected Chinese users so that they would download a different program, one which looks almost the same as Skype but opens up a user’s communications to surveillance by the Chinese state.

Furthermore, the user experience on the TOM Skype web page is similar to the Skype web page which means that users will unknowingly download TOM Skype and therefore have their conversations and messages monitored and even automatically uploaded to servers in China.

We signed an open letter to Skype, where we asked Microsoft to publicly share what knowledge they have of the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to in TOM Skype. Microsoft released its first transparency report after the letter but we believe the data request only included the official Skype client and does not include TOM Skype. After all, sensitive conversations on TOM Skype are automatically uploaded to servers in China and our guess is even Microsoft does not know how many users are affected in this way. Furthermore, in the transparency report, Microsoft did not mention TOM Skype nor the surveillance nature of the product.

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, Freeweibo.com 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 http://www.weibo.com/2093591281/Ab4YMlFgS.

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 GreatFire.org 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?

Advantages

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.

Why

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.

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