Gmail thrown off the Great Firewall: A look at stifling Internet censorship in China

China's censorship tactics aren't something new.


The most recent buzz created around controlled Internet in China is the fact that Gmail has completely thrown off its firewall. For those not in the know,China blocked the use of Gmail through its browsers in June this year, cracking on pro-democracy demonstrators just ahead of the Tiananmen Square anniversary. However, people could still access emails downloaded via protocols like IMAP, SMTP and POP3. Now, it has pulled the final plug on the popular web based mail service by patching that loophole too.

China's censorship tactics aren't particularly new. In fact, it often reflects a stifling and dangerous world of Internet censorship and its communist government's efforts at controlling what its citizens/netizens can read or discuss.

"If an Internet user in China searches for the word "persecution," he or she is likely to come up with a link to a blank screen that says "page cannot be displayed. The same is true of searches for "Tibetan independence," "democracy movements" or stranger sounding terms such as "oriental red space time" — code for an anti-censorship video made secretly by reporters at China's state TV station," points out the report by Paul Wiseman.

Critics say China has stepped up disruption of foreign online services like Google over the past year to create an Internet that is cut off from the rest of the world.

GreatFire.org, a China-based freedom of speech advocacy group said, "Gmail’s setback could make email communication difficult for companies operating in China which use Google’s Gmail for their corporate email system. Imagine if Gmail users might not get through to Chinese clients. Many people outside China might be forced to switch away from Gmail." The only optionis to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which allows unhindered access to blocked sites and services.

Almost all of Google’s services have been heavily disrupted in China, be it YouTube, Docs, Drive or Gmail. Google had released a transparency report earlier that revealed how their traffic in China had begun to reduce drastically. The search giant had also disclosed that it was facing no technical problems with the website.

But China's censorship is not just reserved for Google. The government has also imposed partial, limited period or complete bans on innumerable sites to exert control on what goes on the Internet. The list of blocked pages in China include several Wikipedia pages like those of the Dalai Lama, Chinese Dissidents and more. The Wall Street Journal which been extensively covering Internet censorship in China has also been reportedly blocked in China.

In April, China had renewed its campaign against the spread of pornography on the Internet and asked websites and portals to clean up their links to avoid shutdown. The campaign ‘Cleaning the Web 2014′ will conduct thorough checkups on websites, search engines and mobile application stores, Internet TV USB sticks, and set-top boxes, the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications had issued in a circular.

The professional network, LinkedIn, has also been blocked in China, and the company has prepped up its own localized version of the social site. In fact, Facebook has been blocked for years now, as its a place wherein you can openly share your opinions. The government suspects its a place to hatch and spread rumours. So, it has been encouraging its masses to use the home-brewed Weibo instead.

However, unlike North Korea that bans online access, China encourages Internet usage by putting in place the 'most sophisticated' filtering system. It has been creating filters and also working on exact homegrown alternatives to the site, which are eventually easier to control.


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