Friday, October 16, 2009

Expats in China atwitter over Internet blocks

Expats in China have been all atwitter after a tightening of Internet restrictions this week, at least those who could still access the micro-blogging service were. On Monday afternoon a much used Twitter application twittergadget was blocked making access to the site more difficult for many foreigners living in China. Twitter has been blocked for several months but this week has seen a tightening of the noose. As the gadget which worked within iGoogle and GMail became inaccessible, many users migrated to other third party sites such as HootSuite. There are several others that still remain unblocked, but many were expressing their fear that it was only a matter of time before they too were targeted by Chinese censors.

But it wasn't just Twitter apps that have been hit. Python, a provider of a programming language, saw its download link blocked and the URL shortener also became a victim of the Great Firewall of China, often referred to on Twitter by the tag #GFW. It was all becoming too much for some. Steven Millward, a CNET Asia tech blogger, tweeted on his @sirsteven Twitterfeed that he was "definitely going to pay for VPN this week." However even some paid Virtual Private Networks have been hit in recent months, so paid or not there is no guaranteed route through the GFW. David of @randomwire also spoke of his consternation. "(This)debacle seriously makes me consider my future in China. Its gone from an annoyance to sever hindrance," he states

The lack of access was also conjuring up a dark sense of humour. Simon, who styles himself as the founder and top banana of Illuminant Partners, an award-winning PR and strategic communications agency in China and Hong Kong, suggested that "China no longer has internet. It has a LAN" on his @illuminantceo feed. It was a comment that was repeatedly tweeted throughout the day. The description was apt. According to Wikipedia "larger LANS [Local Area Network] contain a wide variety of network devices such as switches, firewalls, routers, load balancers, sensors...a LAN may have connections with other LANs via leased lines, services, or by tunneling across Internet using VPN technology".

One Chinese user who goes by the Twitter name @feng37 made a jibe at Qin Gang with his tweet "save what you're supposed to write and don't save what you're not supposed to write" after Google Docs became inaccessible for some users. The comment was a twist on a statement made by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in March after the blocking of YouTube. "The Internet in China is fully open and the Chinese Government manages the Internet according to the law. As for what you can and cannot watch, watch what you can watch, and don't watch what you cannot watch," Qin said.

The blocks and accessibility or the world wide web was no better by Friday. Western sites currently blocked in China include YouTube, Blogger, Facebook, Typepad, Twitter, Wordpress, Flickr, Friendfeed, Tumblr, technorati, imageshack, Picasa web albums, Scribd, Dailymotion, Liveleak, Vimeo, and Twitpic. Even Chinese social networking sites are not immune with Digu, Zuosa, Fanfou and Jiwai all inaccessible. While the Melbourne film festival site became available by mid-October 2009 following the showing of a controversial Uighur film other sites that have angered authorities remain blocked including the BBC Chinese website, China Digital Times, WorldWeeklyNews, Epoch Times, Danwei,, Amnesty, RSF, Wikileaks and the Observatoire International des Crises website which was blocked in 2007 after suggesting China was inhibiting free trade and the flow of ideas.

"Internet filtering is not just a problem for political activists, it also affects those who do business with China," the press freedom organisation said following the ban on the French website. "How do you assess an investment opportunity if no reliable information about social tension, corruption or local trade unions is available? This case of censorship, affecting a very specialised site with solely French-language content, shows the government attaches as much importance to the censorship of economic data as political content...The free flow of information online is not only a human rights issue, it is essential to lasting economic growth and the creation of solid trade relations with other countries."

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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