25/Apr/2014 - Last News Update: 05:47

Cracks in the wall: Will China's Great Firewall backfire?

Category: Business

Published: 1st May 2012 23:03:48

Google may have rolled out its cloud-storage Google Drive last week, but some 500 million internet users may never have a chance to try it out - those in China.

Having hit the country's so-called Great Firewall, Google Drive has joined a host of other services banned in the communist nation, such as YouTube, Google+, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook and Foursquare.

When the firm checked for technical issues on its side, it found none, a Google spokesman told the BBC.

"If people are unable to access Google Drive in China... it's an issue to take up with the Chinese authorities," he said.

The restriction does indeed seem to come from Beijing, but it is not a surprise, say analysts.

The [Chinese] Firewall doesn't work perfectly, it is in fact full of holes”

The Chinese government has been notoriously unfriendly towards a number of Western websites and online services, mostly targeting social media networks and video sharing sites that could have a mass impact on "the community", notes Duncan Clark, a chairman of BDA China, a consultancy firm in Beijing.

"It's a question of control - and the Chinese authorities like to keep close control of web content, preferring to work with local internet content providers, on whom they can rely for self-censorship of content," says Mr Clark.

And to exercise this control, the state closely monitors internet traffic within the country and all web content that crosses its borders.

This Great Chinese Firewall uses several tools.

All internet traffic into China passes through a small number of gateways, giving the government a chance to control the information.

Sometimes Beijing will block access to a site that has been blacklisted by the government. The authorities may also prevent the look-up of certain domain names, thus causing a "site not found" error message on the user's screen.

If a site is not on any blacklist but its URL - web address - contains a prohibited word, the site may be blocked - and this may also happen if a prohibited keyword is published anywhere on the page a user is viewing.

Censorship can be done more subtly as well - for example by filtering posts with prohibited keywords on the country's social media platforms and erasing comments shortly after they have been posted on microblogging sites.

But the Great Firewall does have cracks.

For instance, in February US President Barack Obama's Google+ account was flooded with comments from China, after a gap in the firewall temporarily allowed Chinese users to access the social network.

"The Firewall doesn't work perfectly, it is in fact full of holes," says Hamid Sirhan, a strategist at social media agency FreshNetworks in London.

"To go round the restrictions, Chinese netizens use proxies - internet accelerators - to 'tunnel' through the wall, and they often work around blocked search terms by using sometimes-humorous homonyms."

The state and the Chinese netizens have been playing a cat-and-mouse game”

Special software like JonDonym, Tor and Ultrasurf help web users to break through the Chinese government's restrictions.

Although it is possible for more technically-savvy internet users to access banned Western websites and services, most Chinese are perfectly content with home-grown alternatives, he adds.

And there are plenty of them. China is known for cloning the Western web world, with one key difference: these sites are self-policing and conform to local laws.

The government's restrictions on foreign web services only help local firms to thrive, says Mr Clark of BDA.

For instance, with YouTube blocked, China's leading video website Youku is thriving.

Sino Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of microblogging site Twitter, already has 300 million users - more than twice as many as the Western original.

With Google's search banned, Baidu Tieba dominates the country's search traffic - without showing any search results that are inconvenient to the Beijing government.

Baidu may not let you find out much on the violent suppression of protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and many other search terms are censored, but it will deliver the right content for most common searches.

Baidu's latest cloud service Wangpan, announced just weeks before the launch of Google Drive, beats Google by offering 25GB of free storage - as much as Microsoft's Skydrive and much more than Google's 5GB.

Although banning foreign firms may give a short-term boost to Chinese tech entrepreneurs, it could hurt the country in the long run, says Mr Clark.

"What if these Chinese companies wanted to go global and succeed?" he asks.

"We all know that China is the manufacturing workshop of the world, but it is now trying to move up, to become much more interested in design, and the government wants to influence the image of China overseas, get it to participate in global industries.

"So if these companies are this much protected domestically, then in the long run it means that they're not as capable functioning overseas.

"But the government is more focused on the short term concerns about control and doesn't seem to think ahead."

And Beijing should also be wary of possible future discontent among Chinese netizens, he adds - not only because they are not allowed to access Google and other Western sites, but also because of the censorship at home.

When the authorities recently disabled the commenting function on local microblogs, they only managed to keep up the restrictions for three days - and then the service went back to normal.

"The state and the Chinese netizens have been playing a cat-and-mouse game," says Mr Clark.

"I will be interesting to see who will win - although I don't think Beijing is ready to give in any time soon."

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. Cracks in the wall: Will China's Great Firewall backfire? [Online] (Updated 1st May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1425869/Cracks-in-the-wall-Will-Chinas-Great-Firewall-backfire [Accessed 25th Apr 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Bernie Ecclestone: Q&A on Formula 1 supremo's bribery trial

    Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone made his first appearance in a Munich court on Thursday, accused of giving a £27.5m ($45m, 33m euros) bribe to a German banker.
  • Ditchling Museum and Tate Britain vie for Art Fund Prize

    A village museum in East Sussex will go up against Tate Britain and the new £35m Mary Rose Museum in a contest to be named the UK's museum of the year.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Iran petrol prices surge as subsidies cut

    Iran has cut state subsidies on petrol in a move that saw prices rise at midnight by up to 75%.
  • Teenager cut free from child's swing at Rhyl park

    A 15 year-old girl has been cut free after becoming trapped in a children's swing in a park in Denbighshire.
  • Johann Lamont: From the heat of the classroom to the heart of Scottish politics

    This year is an important one for the Lamont household.