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Video: Google briefly blocked in China

25 06 2009 – Internet users in China were briefly unable to open Google’s main sites late Wednesday, and the company said it is investigating.

According to many reports, the Chinese authorities have temporarily blocked access to the Chinese version of Google Search, Google.cn, as well as Gmail, at 9pm local time. The sites seem to be available again now, but this is a clear sign that even Google is not untouchable anymore when it comes to Chinese censorship.

The dispute between CIIRC (China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center) and Google – the only company usually considered to be too big to be blocked – began recently, when Google Search started appearing in CIIRC’s reports as a service that disseminates pornographic and vulgar information.

Although Google has promptly promised to do everything in their power to satisfy CIIRC’s demands, it seems that it wasn’t fast or resolute enough, as two of Google’s most important properties – Google Search and Gmail – have been blocked for several hours. The block has been lifted, but Google is no longer untouchable; next time, it might get blocked for days, weeks or months, just like so many other sites. Furthermore, according to some sources, the Chinese censors have even tried to frame Google, artificially pushing some inappropriate results to the list of the most common searched terms.

In some ways, this is good news. Blocking Google Search, the site that merely indexes and provides links to content hosted elsewhere, just goes on to show that everything on the Internet is connected in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to censor one part without censoring the others. Earlier, sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr were blocked; with Google Search blocked, Chinese censors are showing their true intent: they’d ultimately like to block every part of the Internet that’s not under their strict control.

It’ll be interesting to see Google’s reaction to this latest slap in the face from CIIRC. Surely, they will try to further cripple Google.cn (they already removed the option to search foreign websites), but at one point it might become pointless, as the service will no longer be what it’s supposed to be: a search engine. Will Google.cn turn into a site that links only to sites approved by Chinese censors, or will Google finally muster the courage to say enough is enough? We’ll see.

Source: mashable.com

Chinese Activist Calls for Internet Boycott on July 1st

23 06 2009 – From July 1st and onwards, all PCs sold in China must be shipped with an Internet filtering program called Green Dam. This application, besides being a possible security risk, is supposed to protect the people of China from online pornography, but it could also be used to monitor their online activities and block other, non-pornographic sites.

In protest of this action from the Chinese government, Chinese artist, architect and activist Ai Weiwei has called all Chinese Internet users to stop all online activities on July 1st. “Stop any online activities, including working, reading, chatting, blogging, gaming and mailing. Don’t explain your behavior,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ai is perhaps best known as the artistic consultant for design of the the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics, also known as the “Bird’s Nest,” a project he later distanced himself from. He also started an investigation into student casualties in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, collecting a list of over 5,000 names. He published his findings on his blog, which has been subsequently shut down.

It is hard to judge how effective Weiwei’s call to action will be, since his online communication has been heavily monitored, censored and partly shut down. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine all of China boycotting all online activities for even one small part of the work day, especially those who have to be online to be able to work. However, if the boycott turns out to be even partly successful, it’ll show that there’s a significant portion of Chinese people who aren’t happy with the introduction of Green Dam – however innocent the authorities claim it will be – and censorship in general.

Source: mashable.com

China to Google: Remove Your Porn. Google: OK.

22 06 2009 – After being on the end of harsh criticism and even having some of its search features blocked by China, Google has promised to completely remove all pornographic content from its indexes on the Chinese version of its search engine, Google.cn.

According to the BBC, Google has quickly complied; the company’s communications director, John Pinette said that Google is “undertaking a thorough review of our service and taking all necessary steps to fix any problems with our results.”

However, as noted by Techdirt, China’s requests have been oddly formulated, suggesting that the pornographic content they’re objecting to is Google’s property. It definitely seems that way: complaints from CIIRC – China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center – suggest that Google has been “disseminating pornographic and vulgar information.” From one of CIIRC reports:

Public distribution of pornography is illegal in China. Previously, the country had blacklisted 50 websites, including search engines Google, Baidu and MSN China, which were accused of providing obscene content and of being slow to delete erotic materials.

Of course, had it been some smaller organization, foundation or a group, or even perhaps a smaller country that filed the complaint, Google would probably be quick to point out that they’re merely indexing and linking to this content, and that they are not in any way “disseminating” pornographic content. It’s an ongoing problem, highlighted recently by Chinese demand that all PCs must be shipped with software that blocks certain websites: China’s a huge market for just about anything, and companies are often willing to “tweak” their policies – even when it comes to censorship and online privacy – to conform with their demands. And double standards, especially with issues as important as these, are never good.

Πηγή: mashable.com

The Great Firewall of China Goes Local

08 06 2009 – Last week we wrote about China’s blockade of most major social networks and search engines during the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre on 4th of June. Now, the Chinese authorities want to take it a step further, ordering that all PCs sold in the country, starting July 1, must come with software that blocks certain websites.

According to the Chinese government, who haven’t yet gone public with the announcement, but have warned PC makers about the deadline, this measure’s aim is to protect the Chinese from harmful content, primarily pornography. But since this same government has blocked sites like Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and Bing, it’s quite possible that this software’s primary aim is adding another layer of censorship over the existing Great Firewall.

The Chinese authorities have, however, taken a somewhat lax approach – for now. According to the WSJ, the software, whose Chinese name is “Green Dam-Youth Escort” needn’t be pre-installed on the PCs; it may simply come in the form of a CD, and the users can choose whether they want to install it or not. The software is designed in such a way that it allows transferring of user’s private information, as well as blocking sites other than pornography; according to software’s developer, Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co, it would have no reason to do so. It doesn’t sound very convincing, and given a choice, I’d definitely skip it; it’s unclear, however, whether the authorities plan to somehow pressure users into installing the software.

There’s always hope that the PC makers will try to resist these claims from the Chinese authorities, but it’s hard to imagine them saying no, given the importance of the Chinese market. Furthermore, as we’ve seen in this latest blockade, there’s always a technical workaround for these types of censorship attempts. However, if Chinese censors had control of what happens on user computers locally, as well as being able to block certain online destinations, it would make it much harder for users to circumvent such measures.

Source: mashable

Νέα οδηγία για την εισαγωγή υπολογιστών στην Κίνα

03 06 2009 – Με συγκεκριμένο, εγκεκριμένο από τις αρχές λογισμικό ελέγχου των ιστοσελίδων θα εισάγονται πλέον οι υπολογιστές στην Κίνα σύμφωνα με απόφαση του υπουργείου Βιομηχανίας και Πληροφορικής.

image Το πρόγραμμα «Πράσινο Φράγμα» λειτουργεί σαν φίλτρο επισκεψιμότητας ιστοσελίδων, δίνοντας τη δυνατότητα σε αυτόν που το ελέγχει να παραμετροποιεί τις ιστοσελίδες και το περιεχόμενο στο οποίο έχει πρόσβαση ο χρήστης.

«Κατόπιν δοκιμών, το λογισμικό αυτό κρίθηκε κατάλληλο στο να εμποδίζει την πρόσβαση σε μη υγιές περιεχόμενο, εικόνες και κείμενα στο ίντερνετ», αναφέρει η σχετική ανακοίνωση.
Σύμφωνα με την ειδοποίηση, οι υπολογιστές που θα πωλούνται στην Κίνα θα πρέπει να έχουν προ-εγκατεστημένη την τελευταία έκδοση του «Πράσινου Φράγματος», το οποίο θα βρίσκεται στον σκληρό δίσκο του υπολογιστή αλλά και στο συνοδευτικό CD επαναφοράς του συστήματος. Παράλληλα, το εν λόγω λογισμικό θα έχει διαμορφωθεί ώστε να είναι συμβατό με τους υπολογιστές που εισάγονται στη χώρα.
Το μέτρο θα ξεκινήσει να εφαρμόζεται από την 1η Ιουλίου.

Πηγή: forthnet.gr

China Restricts Twitter, CNN on Eve of Tiananmen

03 06 2009 – China restricted access to overseas Web sites and blocked television broadcasts as the government tightened security a day before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

image Twitter Inc.’s social-networking service and Microsoft Corp.’s Bing.com search engine were among Internet sites that were inaccessible. CNN broadcasts went blank in Beijing and Shanghai during a segment on the crushing of the pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989.

The heightened media controls came as the government stationed more police in Tiananmen Square and groups around the world prepared to commemorate the anniversary. The Communist Party, which controls all domestic media, bars public discussion of the 1989 demonstrations.

“It’s a stability issue,” said Bo Zhiyue, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute who studies Chinese politics. “They don’t want to have any disturbance at this critical moment.”

Twitter, Flickr, Opera, Live, WordPress and Blogger are among Web sites that have been blocked since yesterday, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group. Web sites of the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper and Yahoo! Hong Kong News were also inaccessible.

Twitter, Hotmail

Liu Zhengrong, the State Council Information Office Internet Affairs Bureau’s deputy director general, didn’t answer calls to his office today. The Chinese government bureau hasn’t responded to a faxed request for comment on Internet censorship sent two days ago.

“The Chinese government stops at nothing to silence what happened 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement yesterday. Authorities “have opted for censorship at any price rather than accept a debate about this event,” it said.

Twitter has “no information” on its Web site’s inaccessibility, Jenna Sampson, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement. Microsoft is “reaching out to the government” to find out why some of its services have been blocked for customers in China, Kevin Kutz, director of public affairs, said in an e-mail.

Microsoft’s Hotmail e-mail service, which the company said yesterday was being blocked in China, was accessible today in Beijing and Shanghai.

Student Protests

The Communist Party blocks access to Web sites criticizing it or publishing articles deemed unfavorable. China’s 316 million Internet users, the world’s largest online population, have used code words on sites such as San Francisco-based Twitter to bypass the ban on public discussion of Tiananmen.

Social-networking sites are “where most of the concerns are in terms of people mobilizing or spreading information,” said Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution and a former Columbia University professor who’s based in Beijing.

Censorship has extended to overseas newspapers in China. In the past week, the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post have been blocked from distribution or had articles relating to 1989 removed.

Student demonstrators calling for government reform occupied Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing for five weeks in the spring of 1989. Between the eve of June 3 and the early hours of June 4 of that year, soldiers backed by tanks opened fire on civilians in and around the square.

May 35th

Estimates of the number of deaths vary. Beijing’s mayor said in a 1989 report to the government that about 200 civilians died, while the U.S. Embassy in the city estimated that the death toll exceeded 1,000. Tiananmen Mothers, a Beijing-based group of family members of victims, has verified 195 deaths.

China’s government has defended the crackdown by pointing to the country’s record of economic development since 1989. The economy expanded 17-fold by 2008 to become the world’s third largest.

In Tiananmen Square today, visitors had to pass through an X-ray machine and bags were searched. Video cameras were barred and visitors taking photographs were asked for their identity.

Messages circulated on Twitter in recent weeks asking Internet users in China to turn their Web logs gray to commemorate the crackdown, referring to it as “May 35th,” “535” or “VIIV” — Roman numerals signifying June 4.

Users in China have been cut off from Google Inc.’s YouTube.com video-sharing site since March, coinciding with the circulation of a video that allegedly showed Chinese police beating bound and handcuffed Tibetans. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Chinese rule in Tibet and the 60th since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“We do not have any official communication about the block, so we have no information on its cause nor who is responsible,” Scott Rubin, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We have been working to restore the service to our users since then.”

Source: Bloomberg