Friday, September 11, 2009

Freegate fails as China's censorship tightens

Reports across China are beginning to indicate the authorities are finding ways to block the use of Freegate, a popular and widely used programme that enables Internet users breach the so-called Great Firewall of China. Twitter has perhaps not quite been a buzz with comments, the micro-blogging site is blocked in China after all, but over the past few days there have been several comments left by those frustrated at not being able to scale the Great Firewall. Twitter is still able to jump the restrictions with certain APIs, and bloggers can post to blogger by email for example. But those wishing to update their Facebook page, check out YouTube videos or even access Picasa web photo albums, have to get through China's Internet blocks.

China's Golden Shield Project has become more advanced over the years, helped in part by several Western companies like Juniper systems and Cisco.Now proxy sites are often shut down very quickly. Since June have been blocked along with Others while opening the main page fail to bring a return result, Zend2 has been one case in point. There are dozens of others though, but the list of ones that work is shortening by the day. 

Hence the inception of Freegate, started by the Falun Gong but part funded by the US government, it is promoted as a tool to keep free speech alive. It has also become a lifeline for expats as they use the site to view online video and give updates to their friends through blogs and social networking sites.

But this week attempts to access banned or blocked sites became all the more difficult. Tweets began appearing as early as Saturday 5th September with some users describing it as being slow. Chinese users of Twitter were far fore technical with suggestions in changing computer settings, well beyond most people's capability.

Freegate is a programme for the not so tech-savvy, the illiterati of the web. Its apparent failure was to many almost the end of the world. "I'm heartbroken bcuz my sweetie freegate doesn't work 4 me," [sic] missringo wrote on her Twitter feed Tuesday. Her feelings compounded the following day when she tweeted, "what's wrong w/z freegate there days?Chinese internet life can't live without it."

 "I also have problems," infanring, a Chinese Twitter user wrote on Wednesday this week. Drewjet, writing in Chinese, posted a comment saying he had noticed Freegate was unstable, and sometimes slow. "Sometimes it cannot find the server," drewjet wrote. There have been other tweets suggesting the use of other programmes like Puff or Tor. Puff, though available, is deemed by some to be a honey pot [a trap set to detect, deflect, or in some manner counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems] used by either the US or Chinese governments. There are also issues with some anti-virus programmes treating it as a trojan or key-logger.

On Friday some users pointed out that even the latest edition of Freegate did not work. But the frustration is turning to anger amongst some. "WTF! [what the fuck] couldn't use Freegate," Twitter user sophia_oy exclaimed today, 11th September. But it seems few outside the Great Firewall are aware of the building frustration amongst expats and China's so-called netizens. Much of the media spotlight will be focused on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks which occurred 8 years ago today.

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