[UPDATE June 25 15:56: Google.com is once again available in China, for now. I’m leaving this post up, though.]
JISHOU, HUNAN — Sometime this evening, the Chinese net nannies blocked access to Google.com, part of the government’s ever continuing struggle to combat (officially) pornography and (unofficially) access to sites critical of the government.
True to form, the state’s censors are using Google as a poster child to warn those who might want to buck the censors.
CCTV, the state-run television, had a report earlier this week blaming Google for “providing ‘vulgar and unhealthy’ content.” The report featured an interview with a young man — later discovered to be a CCTV intern — who said his roommate had become addicted to porn thanks to Google’s help.
State censors then blocked the intern’s name (Gao Ye 高也) from permissible searches at Google China, the Chinese (net nannied) version of Google.com. Google.cn apparently agreed last week to restrict access to porn, so we can still use it. But, the Great Firewall of China is now blocking the international site,Google.com, which joins youtube.com, blogger.com and blogspot.com on the no-no list.
Experts suggest that the government’s anti-porn crusade is a smokescreen to block access to politically sensitive websites. We lost access to Youtube, for example, after videos of Chinese soldiers beating Tibetan monks showed up there, and blogger and blogspot went dark around the time of the 20th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square Massacre earlier this month.
Blocking Google.com might serve the same function, or as the articles at Danwei.org suggest, the sudden crackdown may be retaliation for national and international protests about new forms of government censorship.
A few weeks ago, China announced that by July 1 all computers sold in China must have a web-filtering program installed called Green Dam Youth Escort, supposedly to prevent children accessing porn and violent material. Chinese netizens instantly cried foul, and most have mocked the program as a thinly veiled attempt to censor the Internet. (One example of mockery is shown here: Green Dam Girl (绿坝娘) is pulling down Windows XP Girl’s knickers.)
Another group of Chinese netizens proposed a national boycott of using the Internet on July 1, the deadline by which manufacturers must provide Green Dam on new computers.
Computer experts at the University of Michigan then alleged Green Dam was a security risk, allowing external computers access to a user’s files and Internet browsing history. The UMich analysts recommended users uninstall Green Dam ASAP.
Representatives of a US software firm, Solid Oak, accused Green Dam’s developers of stealing code from Solid Oak’s own Cyber Sitter web-filtering application.
Finally, the US government weighed in on Monday, saying it had grave concerns on how Chinese Internet censorship would affect trade and access to information.
China, however, remained resolute yesterday in requiring Green Dam on new computers.
Blocking Google.com, then, may be a way for the Chinese censors to show us all who’s boss, in a virtual pissing contest. (Though, as I have reported earlier, there are ways to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. It’s cumbersome, but it works.)
On a more personal level, losing access to Youtube and Blogger/Blogspot was a nuisance, but a minor one. Losing Google.com, however, means I cannot easily access my photos at Picasaweb or use www.gmail.com to read my email and access my contacts files. [I can still check my gmail using Thunderbird and Yahoo! Mail, though. Only Web traffic is being restricted so far, not POP/IMAP/SMTP traffic.]
It’s impossible to say how long Google.com will be blocked. When I arrived last August, I found that Livejournal.com was blocked, then sometime this spring the ban was lifted. In true authoritarian form, Chinese censors giveth, and they taketh away.