Google disruption in China, involving the "rfa" initials of Radio Free Asia, was no glitch.

Posted: 02 Apr 2010   Print   Send a link
"Google's temporary search engine outage Tuesday was originally thought to have been the result of an internal glitch, but Google now says it was due to censorship by the Chinese government. The outage affected users in China who attempted to visit as well as Google initially attributed the outage to its usage of the search parameter 'gs_rfai,' the 'rfa' portion of which is linked to Radio Free Asia, which has long been inaccessible in China. Later, Google said that because the 'rfa' parameter was added a week ago, the blockage of search results must have been the result of the so-called 'Great Firewall Of China.' ... Industry analysts believe Beijing would think twice before completely blocking Google from the country for fear of disturbing businesses' access to information, both locally and globally." Yara Souza, ChannelWeb, 31 March 2010.
     "Radio Free Asia President Libby Liu issued the following statement today in response to the news that China’s Great Firewall temporarily blocked all Google searches in China, due to an unintentional association with the long-censored term 'rfa.' ... 'This development is a stark reminder to the world of China’s repressive control of the Internet and free speech for its citizens,' Liu said. 'The sensitivity of China’s Great Firewall to filter any searches with the letters "rfa" shows the extent to which online censors will go to restrict the Internet. It’s time for China to stop exerting draconian control of its cyberspace, and allow accurate and objective information to flow freely within its society.'" RFA press release, 30 March 2010 (pdf).
     "In a further twist, the web giant admitted that its Chinese search traffic has now returned to normal 'even though we have not made any changes at our end'. Google's mobile services in China have been partially blocked for several days, according to the company's service accessibility report." Spencer Dalziel, CRN Australia, 1 April 2010.
     "China generally doesn't tell its people when it is interfering with their Web access, unlike some other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that give explanatory warning messages when users are denied access to forbidden sites. Instead, China's filtering can look to users like a technical glitch—an error message in a user's browser that makes it seem like his connection to the Internet malfunctioned. Authorities don't discuss the methods or tools they use." Loretta Chao and Jason Dean, Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2010.
     "China’s government allows Internet users to search for controversial topics such as 'Tiananmen Square massacre' and 'Dalai Lama,' while the firewall limits or blocks access to some of the sites that are found by the query. 'From a technical point of view, it’s not that difficult,' Steve Chang, Chairman of Tokyo-based security software company Trend Micro Inc. said in an interview in Taipei yesterday. 'The mystery is in the rules, you never really know exactly what is being blocked.'" Tim Culpan, Bloomberg, 31 March 2010.
     "'The intermittent blocking might be China experimenting with new techniques, or it might be them thinking that the best way to cause Google the most trouble is to cause on-and-off problems that are harder to diagnose.'" Computerworld, 31 March 2010.
     "In a perfect world, you'd see other American businesses with an interest in free speech follow Google's example, including obvious search rivals Yahoo! and Microsoft, but also businesses with a more physical, less virtual presence in the Middle Kingdom such as IBM and Apple. But search competitors seem to take Google's retreat as an opportunity to steal market share, and don't hold your breath if you think that Apple would abandon its Chinese manufacturing base on the eve of the iPad launch. Google's stand is admirably principled, yet blue-eyed and immature. The company really should have seen some fallout coming, and there's no reason to be surprised when the Great Firewall closes Google's Chinese searches down for good. When, not if." Anders Bylund, The Motley Fool, 31 March 2010.
     "There is an irony here, which is that Google says it wants to keep on doing business in China whilst refusing to censor its web service – kind of having their cake and eating it, as it were. ... I get the feeling that Google is in serious danger of being out-flanked by the Chinese government who are playing a long and increasingly canny game in this dispute." Peter Foster, The Telegraph, 31 March 2010.
     "The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said on Friday it had shut its website after a burst of hacker attacks, days after attacks on the Yahoo email accounts of some foreign journalists covering China were discovered." Reuters, 2 April 2010. See previous post about same subject.