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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:

Thu, Dec 20, 2012

Apple adopted https in App Store. China threatens to censor apps.

Recently, China threatens to require every app to have a license in order to go on sale, as reported by New York times. The time is too coincidental as Apple adopted https on iTunes for searching and downloading Apps. 

Before this adoption, searching for certain keywords such as "vpn" would lead to a connection reset on iTunes and visiting the page for certain Apps, such as VPN Express would also cause a reset, which means there is no way for users in China to search for or download certain Apps even if they are available in China App Store.  

But because now https is implemented by Apple on almost all connection to iTunes server, Great Firewall of China has no way to selectively block connection to certain contents. A test to the same link mentioned above with https  protocol yields no censorship.

This change provides a commercial platform in China(China App Store uses CNY for payment) not subject to the arbitrary censorship of the government. For example, opendoor an app dedicated to circumventing the Internet is on sale on China App Store and users are willing to pay to remove ads in the app. Any other trading platform, such as Taobao(Chinese version of ebay) is actively censoring Internet Circumvention tools and selling anti-censorship tools there is not possible.

Therefore, it is highly likely that the government have noticed this loophole in its censorship net, and is now trying to close it.

Wed, Dec 19, 2012

Sina Weibo Enacts New "7 Day Delay" Function for Sensitive Terms Following 18th Party Congress

On November 10, 2012, Reuters published a report entitled "China Party Chief Stresses Reform, Censors Relax Grasp on Internet." An excerpt:

China's largest microblog service unblocked searches for the names of many top political leaders in a possible sign of looser controls a month after new senior officials were named to head the ruling party. 
Searches on the popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog for party chief Xi Jinping, Vice Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders - terms that have long been barred under strict censorship rules - revealed detailed lists of news reports and user comments.

What's actually happened is that Sina Weibo is now imposing a seven day delay on search results for these names, as well as other "sensitive terms" (such as the name of lawyer Xu Zhiyong (许志永)).  Sina Weibo does not notify users when it does this. Read on for more details and examples. The Standing Committee of Political Bureau of the 17th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party ("PBSC") comprised the following nine members: Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), Wen Jiabao (温家宝),  Jia Qinglin (贾庆林), Li Changchun (李长春), Xi Jinping (习近平), Li Keqiang (李克强), He Guoqiang (贺国强), Zhou Yongkang (周永康). It is worth noting that Sina Weibo did not always censor searches for the names of all members of the PBSC. For example, this screenshot, taken in February 2012, shows that a search on Sina Weibo for "Xi Jinping" returned hundreds of thousands of results, including posts made just minutes before.

Thu, Dec 13, 2012

China listening in on Skype - Microsoft assumes you approve

With 250 million monthly connected users, Skype is one of the most popular services for making phone calls as well as chatting over the Internet. If you have friends, family or business contacts abroad, chances are you are using Skype to keep in contact. Having said that, you are probably not aware that all your phone calls and text chats can be monitored by the censorship authorities in China. And if you are aware, chances are that you do not consent to such surveillence. Microsoft, however, assumes that you do consent, as expressed in their Privacy Policy:

Skype, Skype's local partner, or the operator or company facilitating your communication may provide personal data, communications content and/or traffic data to an appropriate judicial, law enforcement or government authority lawfully requesting such information. Skype will provide reasonable assistance and information to fulfill this request and you hereby consent to such disclosure.

From the SKYPE PRIVACY POLICY.

Known for years - yet most Skype users are unaware

The fact that Skype is collaborating with Tom Online and operating under "local laws and regulation" for the China market has been known for years. For example, Human Rights Watch got the following response from Skype in 2006, when inquiring about their partnership with Tom:

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