Monday, January 11, 2010

IMDB blocked by Chinese censors

Internet users in China found themselves without the most comprehensive database of movie trivia and information last week after the IMDb became the latest victim of the so-called Great Firewall of China. Access to the IMDb site was blocked on Wednesday last week [6th January], adding the movie business Internet portal to a fast-growing list of banned Web sites featuring user-generated content. The site, also known as the Internet Movie Database, is owned by online bookselling giant, and claims over 57 million monthly visitors. The site is published in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. However there is no Chinese-language edition of IMDb and many are puzzled as to why it was blocked.

According to reports, the state-run China Film Group rely on IMDb "all the time", and the block will seriously affect research for vast numbers of people. It has been assumed, although not confirmed in any way, that the block was put in place due to a number of films detailing Tibet and its struggle for freedom being present on the site. In particular one documentary called "When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun", which some suggest is the main reason behind the block. 

IMDb also lists "The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom," a 2009 documentary whose planned screening this week at the Palm Springs International Film Festival caused the state-run China Film Group to pull two of its films from competition in protest. "China: Rebirth of an Empire," a another 2009 documentary featuring Kadeer and exiled Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng also features on the site. 

IMDb, which relies on user generated content, is not alone in its being inaccessible. It joins the ranks of dozens of other sites, many of them social networking platforms or web 2.0 sites. As of January this year many Google services still remain blocked. Blogger, YouTube, Picasa web, Google Health, Google Sites, Google Groups, Google's Development site,, the Chrome Extensions site and even the Google Wave invite link are all inaccessible. Google Docs is only accessible via the insecure http mode and even then it is unstable with spreadsheets blocked and direct access to folders and other functionality thwarted. Google Wave is also virtually useless in China with many gadgets blocked making it nothing more than a glorified instant messenger!

Social networking sites Facebook and Twitter are blocked and several other blogging platforms such as Typepad and Wordpress are also stymied by the censors. Sites that share content are also affected including Friendfeed, Tumblr, technorati, imageshack, Scribd, Dailymotion, Liveleak, Vimeo, Twitpic and Pirate Bay. Even some URL shorteners have been shut down including bit.y links. In October last year the Python programming software download link was blocked. For many expats, using the Internet is a particularly frustrating experience. Content shared with friends and family, as well as business colleagues outside China is often unobtainable unless one is prepared to pay additional fees to foreign based VPN [Virtual Private Network] providers. Even then, some sites cannot be accessed.

Even where sites are not blocked they are often unstable. Google News is one such example. Links may not open the first time round and some links are preceded by a Google referrer which has to be deleted in order to open the required site. Many expats, still able to access Twitter via third party apps which bi-pass the Great Firewall, express their fear that the restrictions may go further and even block GMail, Skype and other communications' tools. It's all a guessing game, however, and the uncertainty is increasingly uncomfortable. Nonetheless, some have retained a sense of humour and ridiculed the latest block. "I know the last Jackie Chan movie wasn't great, but this is a bit of an over-reaction," one Internet user said on a forum.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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