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Friday, July 1, 2011

Google+ Now Not Blocked in China but Slowed Due to DNS

[UPDATE: Information below is from 2011. More recent post (January 2012) on access to Google+ and other websites in China can be found here: Not Black & White: Access in China to Amazon, Facebook, Google+, Windows Live, Yahoo! and More.

5 previous updates are at end of this post.]

There's been a lot swirling about Google+ in China and whether it is blocked.  Recently, some reports have stated that Google+ is not in fact blocked in China.  For example, see Steven Millward's post on Penn Olson here, Jessica Colwell's piece on Shanghaiist here, and a commentary on them and other reports by Edmund Downie on Foreign Policy's blog here.

However, none of the pieces touched on what I think is a key aspect -- the impact of simply changing the DNS server.  This is something anyone in China with access to the Internet/Network settings on their device can easily do (although many don't know about it).   I already discussed the issue of DNS in my previous post here.  I'll now provide a quick recap and update.

Around 5am (China Time) Friday, July 1:

As reported before (again, here), my experience in Shanghai was that Google+ was indeed blocked.  It is possible if I had waited much longer eventually I would have gotten through as others later reported.  It is possible the situation was different when I did my testing early in the morning.  All I can say is that I waited a minute or so without success.

However, if I switched from using the local default DNS server to which I was connected to one outside of China (that I've found reliable in the past) then the Google+ entry pages were readily and quickly available.  To be clear, this was without using a VPN or applying any other "tricks" to get through China's Great Firewall.  I only changed my DNS settings.   I was not able to check "inside" Google+ since I didn't have an invite at the time.

8:30pm Friday, July 1:

Earlier today I received an invite.  Even using a local DNS server I was able to log in and use Google+.  However, as others have reported pages could take an extended amount of time to load (maybe 5-10 seconds) or I needed to play around (click on several different links first) for them to open.  Not an entirely smooth experience, but not completely blocked either.

Again, if I switched to to a non local DNS server the experience markedly improved and there were no apparent issues.   I dare say it felt "normal".

Quick Thoughts:

During the morning's experience I wondered if my inability to access Google+ through a local DNS server was simply an issue of DNS propagation.  In short, it takes time for information about how to connect to a new website address to spread to networks around the world.  Maybe it was taking longer for it to reach China (or they had to first "review" it).  However, now the Google+ address has clearly been propagated, otherwise there would be no access to the service using a local DNS.

Now the problem is clearly an issue of slow access, not complete blocking.  Since switching to a non-local DNS server markedly improves the speed, the problem seems to be related to China's DNS servers (or at least the ones I and some others have tried).  Importantly, given the pattern of results it would seem that Google can't be blamed for the current slow access in China (as some in China may try to do).

As James Fallows has pointed out before (see here), there are many ways that China's Great Firewall can go about its business.  What appears to be happening to Google+ is the result of one of the more tame and easily managed methods the Great Firewall can use to interfere with websites.

It may be a case of the Chinese government wanting to dissuade users from adopting Google+ but not wanting to fully block it (at least not yet).  They also may be simply waiting for some "bad" material to appear on it before taking stronger steps.

We'll see.

Added note: The slowness of Google+ in China may be related to a more general, and curious, slowing of foreign sites that has been noted by some (including me at times in the past).  I did not make a direct comparison of Google+ vs other foreign sites and how they respond to changes in the DNS server so I am not sure.  Regardless of whether the slowing is specific to Google or not, it still appears to be a DNS issue.

UPDATE:  Around 9:30 pm on July 5, I was not able to access Google+ through a local DNS server.  See here for more: http://www.isidorsfugue.com/2011/07/google-now-dns-blocked-in-china.html

UPDATE 2:  Around 2am on July 6, the situation remains the same.  I was not able to access Google+ through a local DNS server.  However, as before, after switching to a non-Chinese DNS server I could access Google+.

UPDATE 3:  Around 11:30pm on July 6, I was able to access Google+ while using a local DNS server.  More here.

Added note: The Shanghaiist here earlier on Wednesday also noted that Google+ was blocked in China.  At that time...

UPDATE 4: Between 3-4pm on July 7, Google+ is once again "DNS-blocked" using a local DNS server in Shanghai, China.  I tested on multiple browsers in two different locations with the same results.  Again, switching to a non-Chinese DNS server resolves the problem.

UPDATE 5:  Any future updates will be placed here:  "Access to Google+ in China".

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