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Wed, Jan 23, 2013

GitHub blocked in China - how it happened, how to get around it, and where it will take us

What happened?

Update: On January 23, https://github.com was unblocked again.

On January 18, or possibly the day before (though our test data doesn’t cover this), the Great Firewall began to reset connections containing “*.github.com”. As a result, code sharing projects hosted on a subdomain of GitHub, such as aoxu.github.com, were blocked in China. The main GitHub website was mostly unaffected, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s hosted on github.com, without a subdomain. Secondly, it serves encrypted content only, thus preventing the Great Firewall from resetting connections based on keywords.

A day later, the block was extended through the inclusion of github.com, without subdomains, in the list of keywords causing connections to be reset. Chinese users could still access GitHub as long as they manually typed in https://github.com in their browser (notice the https). Strangely the www.github.com host was DNS poisoned, but not any other hosts. The www subdomain is not used by GitHub.

On January 21, DNS poisoning was extended to all github.com hosts including the root domain as well as all its subdomains. In effect, all of GitHub was blocked in China.

Interestingly, the blocking of GitHub has seemingly not been censored on social media. The keyword “github” has not been blocked on Sina Weibo, and we have not detected any deleted posts containing “github” on FreeWeibo.

For further information on how the blocking was introduced, including data references, see the Timeline at the end of this article.

Wed, Jan 09, 2013

The Real Reasons Behind Google's China Censorship Kowtow

On January 4 we broke the story about Google backing down on their online censorship position in China. Sometime between December 5 and December 8 last year, Google decided to remove a feature which had previously informed users from China of censored keywords. At the same time, they deleted the help article which explained how to use the feature, indicating a new development in the relationship between the Chinese government and Google.

Our original article warrants further elaboration and analysis and we also felt it necessary to address some issues raised by the media who reported on this story.

Is this about making Google shareholders happy?

Is this just another China growth story? This could be the simplest answer as to why Google would make such a change and it would have been hastened by the Chinese government’s decision to block Google for one day last November.

Mon, Jan 07, 2013

There are NOT millions of Twitter users in China. Here's proof

Originally posted by Jason Q. Ng at Blocked on Weibo, republished with permission.

The question of how many Chinese Twitter users there are made headlines a few months back when the market research company GlobalWebIndex published results from a survey which claimed that 35 million people in China used Twitter. Media outlets ran with the story of how there was a huge secret upswell in “free” netizens in China who climbed the Great Firewall to access blocked sites like Twitter, with the seeming implication being that revolución! was just around the corner. Social/human rights progress may still indeed take place in China in the near future, but most smart social media watchers agree it won’t be because of Twitter: Chinese folks just aren’t on the service in the same numbers that they are on other local social media sites like Sina Weibo, RenRen, and even upstart mobile apps like WeChat/Weixin. People (and even companies in advertisements) don’t pass around their Twitter handle in the same frequencies as they share their Weibo contact info.

Fri, Jan 04, 2013

Google Bows Down To Chinese Government On Censorship

Sometime between December 5 and December 8 last year, Google made a surprising decision that hasn’t yet been reported. They decided to remove a feature which had previously informed users from China of censored keywords (screenshot below). At the same time, they deleted the help article which explained how to use the feature. This indicates a new development in the relationship between the Chinese government and Google. Since Google moved its search engine to Hong Kong in 2010, censorship of its services such as YouTube, Google Plus and thousands of keywords on Google Search has been done by the Great Firewall, out of control of Google. This latest move was fully controlled by Google and can as such only be described as self-censorship.

Google has been depicted as a model company that stands up to the Chinese government and upholds its famous motto “Don’t be evil”. This impression reached a climax in May this year when Google introduced a new warning message aimed at users in China. Typing one of the many keywords blocked by the Great Firewall, this message would inform the user that continuing the search would probably break the user's connection. It was a bold step towards exposing the censorship that the authorities desperately try to hide. At the time, Foreign Policy asked whether in this “second clash between the Internet search giant and the Chinese government, will freedom of speech win?”.

Thu, Jan 03, 2013

2012 in Review: 10 Examples of Free Speech With Mainland Chinese Characteristics

Originally posted on Fei Chang Dao

1. "The Truth"

From at least June 26 through July 9, searching on Sina Weibo for "The Truth" (真相) returned no results, just a notice saying "In accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, search results for 'the truth' have not been displayed." (根据相关法律法规和政策,“真相”搜索结果未予显示。)

At some time between July 10 and July 20, Sina Weibo once again began returning search results for "the truth."

Screenshot taken on June 26 showing Sina Weibo censoring searches for "the truth."

2. Bo Xilai, Gu Kailai, Wang Lijun

Timeline

Sat, Dec 29, 2012

8 Absurd Quotes On Censorship In China

  1. “Intended to better protect Internet users' privacy”
  2. “You can get all kinds of opinions. It's much open”
  3. “Strengthening Internet regulation is the will of the people”
  4. “While other countries have legislated to regulate the Internet, China has still been thinking about it”
  5. “Foreign-run VPNs illegal in China”
  6. “Censors Relax Grasp on Internet”
  7. “Thank god my husband had to shake his porn habit after he got here”
  8. “China: The Home to Facebook and Twitter?”

The world is a complex place, and reporting on it is a difficult task. Luckily journalists are good at getting catchy quotes and creating memorable headlines. These are supposed to give you a summary of the news and a brief idea of how the issue is developing. Sometimes they can be misleading, though. In an attempt to combat misconceptions of online censorship in China, we have selected 8 recent such quotes. These have been reported by mainstream media in China and/or outside China.

If your impression of the Internet in China is based on these claims, you may think that online censorship in China is intended to protect regular users, that it doesn’t threaten freedom of speech, that it’s wanted by the people, that it’s moderate, that circumventing it is illegal, that it’s being relaxed, that it exists to block pornography and that nonetheless more than a hundred million Chinese Internet users can access supposedly blocked websites.

Fri, Dec 21, 2012

Baidu's New Censorship Policies for Leaders' Names After the 18th Party Congress

Prior to November 2012, Baidu's practice was to restrict all queries containing the name of a member of

Searches on Oct. 27, 2012 for PBSC members' names on
Baidu restricted to Sina.com.cn return no results.

the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China ("PBSC") to a strict white list of about a dozen websites controlled by the central government and the Communist Party:

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