Monday, July 13, 2009

Expats angry at Internet blocks

Expats living across China have expressed anger as authorities continue their blocking of popular websites. Last month saw several websites blocked as the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests neared. Blogger and Wordpress, both popular blogging sites have been unavailable in China for sometime but authorities have increased the list of sites deemed to be a threat to China's security. Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site also found itself targeted as did the social networking site Facebook. And it didn't stop there. Google and Gmail were both disrupted by the so-called Great Firewall of China and Microsoft's Bing search engine was also blocked as was their Hotmail and Messenger services.

By the end of June most services had returned and access was once again restored, though Blogger, Wordpress and other blogging sites remained unobtainable. But as riots spread across the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in north-west China, authorities once again launched a war on a number of websites.

One of the first to be blocked was Twitter and even Tweetdeck, which had previously managed to circumvent the outage, failed to get past the Great Firewall. But it was the blocking of the popular social networking site that brought cries of foul.

For expats living across the vast continent complained that they had once again lost a valuable way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home. The Examiner carried several comments by unhappy internet users, some stating they may quit their business in China. "This censorship is actually getting worse and not just affecting a particular website, but the Internet connection as a whole," said one Internet user. "I am seriously considering leaving this country because doing online business here is too difficult," he said.

Even as early as last month some were complaining that many legitimate people and businesses were suffering from the blanket bans on services such as Blogger. One businessman complained that his enterprise had suffered as he used his blog to advertise his services in China and the blocking of blogspot effectively meant his clients couldn't access his website.

While it may be true to say some groups use these open access and free to use websites to express dissenting views, many have become a part of everyday life and business for millions. Twitter has become an invaluable tool for journalists and businesses alike. Many blogs provide technical information for businesses as well as important press releases.

The irony is that even China's own news gathering organisations are suffering from the blocks. Not being able to access the Google official blog for press releases and read live information pouring in on Twitter slows down the whole process of gathering and disseminating reports.

The blocking of sites appears at times to have no sense of logic. Even Amazon, the online retailer has been struck by the continued blockages. Today [Monday] the NASA home page was inaccessible for a time and earlier this month the Cancer Research UK website appeared to have been targeted.

This week Google CEO Schmidt said that countries like China and Iran blocked the use of the Internet at "their peril" and some groups have called on Barack Obama to punish US companies who aid such regimes. The Global Online Freedom Act (Gofa) could see US companies fined if they profit from involvement in online censorship. Up to $2m (£1.2m) might be levied on US companies that provide information or technology that aids the restriction of Internet services. The bill has failed to make it on to the statute books in the past, but leading campaigners are now pleading with legislators to act. Already CEOs of companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco Systems have found themselves grilled by US politicians over their apparent sanctioning such use of their services. They are effectively accused by some of providing weapons to the enemy, albeit one with which America is tied to economically.

It is unclear whether such threats will change the policy of companies like Yahoo or Cisco, or that predictions of falling business may dissuade China and others from blocking Internet access. In the short term at least access to vast proportions of the Internet are becoming more difficult to access as China has widened its net to take out proxy websites that facilitate a way around the Great Firewall of China.

tvnewswatch is already finding access to the net difficult and frustrating. Proxies have been blocked. Tweetdeck no longer works, and research is becoming very difficult. For the time being tvnewswatch is able to post to blogger, though sadly it is impossible to post pictures. The tvnewswatch Twitter feed is also still active, but for how long is anybody's guess.

tvnewswatch reporting from Beijing, China

1 comment:

mike wheeler said...

good article mate, I agree with you. If countries such as China and Iran want to enjoy the benefits of western trade they need to understand that freedom of speech is a pre-requisite. Blocking sites at their political whim will just stop us dealing with them . There's plenty of trade in other countries!