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China’s Great Firewall No Barrier to Ugly Online Battles Over Hong Kong Protests

Sarah Zheng  reports: Hong Kong’s summer of protests looks very different from inside and outside the Great Firewall that encircles the internet in mainland China.

On Monday morning, the top trending topic on Weibo, China’s highly regulated version of Twitter, featured a Shanghai tourist who was “harassed and beaten” during a massive pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on Sunday evening. It racked up 520 million views. A prominent video on the topic from Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily showed the man, surnamed Ma, telling reporters about protesters accosting and accusing him of photographing their faces, under the tagline: “Is this the ‘safety’ that rioters are talking about?”

But in Hong Kong, where there is unfettered access to the internet, the focus was on the peaceful Sunday demonstrations, which organisers said drew 1.7 million people despite heavy rain. On LIHKG, the online forum where Hong Kong protesters discuss and organise their action, one hot topic celebrated Weibo posts on Ma that mentioned a taboo – Beijing’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The topic cheered the “first time China’s Weibo allowed public discussion of June 4th”, referencing posts about Photoshopped images of Ma in a shirt calling for justice over the crackdown.

An estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Robert Ng
An estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Robert Ng

Since the protests began in Hong Kong in early June, triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill, there has been a clear dichotomy between how the movement has been portrayed online, inside and outside China. Read the rest of this entry »

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Inside Google’s Effort to Develop a Censored Search Engine in China

The company sampled searches from a Beijing-based website to hone its blacklists.

Engineers working on the censorship sampled search queries from 265.com, a Chinese-language web directory service owned by Google.

Unlike Google.com and other Google services, such as YouTube, 265.com is not blocked in China by the country’s so-called Great Firewall, which restricts access to websites deemed undesirable by the ruling Communist Party regime.

265.com was founded in 2003 by Cai Wensheng, a Chinese entrepreneur known as the “the godfather of Chinese webmasters.” In 2008, Google acquired the website, which it now operates as a subsidiary. Records show that 265.com is hosted on Google servers, but its physical address is listed under the name of the “Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co.,” which is based out of an office building in northwest Beijing’s Haidian district.

265.com provides news updates, links to information about financial markets, and advertisements for cheap flights and hotels. It also has a function that allows people to search for websites, images, videos, and other content. However, search queries entered on 265.com are redirected to Baidu, the most popular search engine in China and Google’s main competitor in the country.

[Read the full story here, at theintercept.com]

It appears that Google has used 265.com as a de facto honeypot for market research, storing information about Chinese users’ searches before sending them along to Baidu. Google’s use of 265.com offers an insight into the mechanics behind its planned Chinese censored search platform, code-named Dragonfly, which the company has been preparing since spring 2017.

After gathering sample queries from 265.com, Google engineers used them to review lists of websites that people would see in response to their searches. The Dragonfly developers used a tool they called “BeaconTower” to check whether the websites were blocked by the Great Firewall. They compiled a list of thousands of websites that were banned, and then integrated this information into a censored version of Google’s search engine so that it would automatically manipulate Google results, purging links to websites prohibited in China from the first page shown to users. Read the rest of this entry »


China Cracks Down on Unauthorized Internet Connections 

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Sijia Jiang | HONG KONG – China is reinforcing its censorship of the internet with a campaign to crack down on unauthorized connections, including virtual private network (VPN) services, that allow users to bypass restrictions known as the Great Firewall.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a notice on its website on Sunday that it is launching a nationwide clean-up campaign aimed at internet service provider (ISP), internet data centrer (IDC), and content delivery network (CDN) companies.

It ordered checks for companies operating without government licenses or beyond the scope of licenses.

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The ministry said it was forbidden to create or rent communication channels, including VPNs, without governmental approval, to run cross-border operations.

VPNs can be used to gain access to blocked websites.

China has the world’s largest population of internet users – now at 731 million people – and is home to some of the biggest internet firms such as Tencent Holdings, Baidu Inc and Alibaba Group Holding. Read the rest of this entry »


How People are Using U.S. Cloud Providers to Sidestep China’s Internet Censors

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How people are using U.S. cloud providers to sidestep China’s Internet censors