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Showing posts with label Great Firewall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great Firewall. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Bird Photobomb, an Upcoming National Congress, and the Great Firewall

Two years ago I shared photos which included dragonflies making unexpected appearances: one in Zhuhai and another in Changsha. Today I had a similar experience involving a bird. As before, I appreciated the flyby. So here is a view of Zhongshan from behind Xishan Temple (西山寺):

view of Zhongshan from behind Xishan Temple (西山寺) in Zhongshan, China


The bird timed things wonderfully. The photo also catches a moment when the wind was helping the flag put on a good display.

Speaking of that flag . . .

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China opens in eight days. This means all sorts of things. One of those is that China may make it more difficult to use VPNs to get through the Great Firewall, which appeared to happen five years ago during the 18th National Congress. At least I was able to post a photo of bridge in Changsha while briefly commenting on my VPN woes.

Possibly related, over the past twelve hours or so I have had an unusually difficult time setting up a functional VPN connection. I also see chatter indicating some others are having problems as well. Whether this represents something broader connected to the upcoming National Congress isn't clear though. I will be saying more here about VPNs in China soon, assuming I can . . .

On a related programmatic note, if I am not able to use a VPN I won't be able to post from mainland China. So I will take this moment to say that if things soon go quiet here for an extended period of time, it is likely due to the Great Firewall extending its reach. Hopefully I will be back soon.

Now you know.

And bird.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Beef Brisket, Burger Queen, and Goddesses: International Women's Day Promotions in China

Two years ago in Zhongshan, Guangdong, I saw a sale for International Women's Day at War Ground — a military-themed clothing retailer. Last year in Jieyang, Guangdong, I saw two Women's Day sales featuring laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid.

In an article featuring some of this year's online Women's Day sales in China, Yvette Tan shares how some in China aren't happy about the sales:
It's worth noting that organisers for March 8's "A Day Without A Woman", aimed at calling attention to the economic inequalities faced by women, has called on women to avoid shopping for the day.

Some Chinese netizens are unimpressed with the commercialism of the day.

"Queen's Day, Girls Day, Princess Day, whatever you call it, I think it's disgusting," said one user on Weibo. "You took a perfectly good celebration and made it into this."
Tan also mentions one of the more thought-provoking promotions: a collaboration in Shanghai between Burger King and Y&R Shanghai captured in a video:
Prompted by the question, ‘Can you be our Burger Queen?’, most female interviewees, despite their various differences, doubted or questioned their worthiness of such a regal title.

Having sparked huge curiosity about who would be crowned Burger Queen, female customers opening their burger boxes today face the ultimate unveil – a mirror topped with a crown and the message ‘Every one of you is our Burger Queen.’

Regardless of how one feels about Burger King, the video is worth watching for the variety of perspectives captured.

For Women's Day this year I am yet again in Guangdong province, but this time in its capital Guangzhou. And yet again, I have seen sales for the holiday, including several days ago at a grocery market specializing in imported goods.

199 Go Shopping Women's Day promotion featuring ice cream cones and brisket


This was the only Women's Day sale I noticed that featured beef brisket. But it was similar to a number of other sales in lasting for multiple days before or after the holiday. Another common feature of other sales I noticed in Guangzhou were discounts based on the holiday's date March 8 (3-8). For example, sometimes prices were discounted to 38% of the original price or reduced by 38 yuan (about US $5.50).

Presumably the largest number of sales occurred today. This afternoon I visited the popular Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street, which captures one side of Guangzhou's vast range of shopping experiences. No modern luxury malls line the street, but there are plenty of stores and shoppers.

Unsurprisingly, the Woman & Baby Company had a Women's Day sale.

Woman & Baby Company Women's Day sale


A leather goods retailer also had a holiday promotion.

Mexican Women's Day sale


Retailers for several Chinese sportswear brands were in the holiday spirit as well, including 361 Degrees.

361 Degrees Women's Day sale


And Li-Ning . . .

Li-Ning Women's Day sale


And Anta . . .

Anta Women's Day sale


And even New Banluce . . .

New Banluce Women's Day sale


Some people may notice New Banluce's name and logo are remarkably similar to another sportswear brand. I didn't see a sale specific to the Women's Day holiday at New Barlun though.

New Barlun Women's Day sale


This touches on some of the challenges faced by a far more globally recognized sportswear brand, New Balance, in China. I will save that for another day. I don't think there is a New Balance store on this pedestrian street, but there are stores elsewhere in Guangzhou.

Back to the Women's Day sales, Sino Gem didn't miss out.

Sino Gem Women's Day sale


The most remarkable promotion I saw today was at one of the stores of another jewelry retailer — Zhou Liu Fu Jewelry.

Zhou Liu Fu Jewelry Goddes Sale


Instead of using the term "Women's Day", like some other retailers they went with another name, in this case "Goddess Day" (I'll take the liberty to fix the English spelling).

Zhou Liu Fu Jewelry Goddes Day sign


Just to be sure, I confirmed with one of the employees that the sale was for Women's Day.

But I haven't gotten to the part that left the biggest impression. I had the fortune to stop by during a special moment. I don't have right words to express it, so this happened along with majestic music:

Zhou Liu Fu Jewelry promotion with people dressed up in ancient traditional costumes


And things didn't stop there, soon the well-dressed group took a short walk down the pedestrian street.

Royalty walking down the Shangxia Jiu Pedestrian Street


Upon returning to the store, they graciously allowed a few people to take photos with them.

woman posing for photo with pretend royalty


I wonder if the baby on her back was excited by it all.

Anyway, I can't top that promotion today.

The commercialization of Women's Day hasn't reached the levels of Christmas in China, but it does seem to be growing. Some see the sales as a sign of women's growing economic power. Some would like to see women in China heard more in other ways.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Assorted China Tech Links: Innovation and Control Mix, a Reason to Break Through, and Uber China Sold

Some longtime readers will remember the days when there was a more explicit tech focus here, and I hope to soon return to some old themes. For now, I will keep it simple and share links to six pieces on China tech:

1. Emily Rauhala pushes back against the idea that heavy censorship by the government means tech innovation has been stifled in China:
“You go on Facebook and you can’t even buy anything, but on WeChat and Weibo you can buy anything you see,” said William Bao Bean, a Shanghai-based partner at SOS Ventures and the managing director of Chinaccelerator, a start-up accelerator.

“Facebook’s road map looks like a WeChat clone.”

2. Despite the innovation, not everything is rosy about the Chinese internet. Christina Larson captures some of how the good and the bad fit together:
These stark contrasts—an Internet that is simultaneously dynamic and lethargic, innovative and stultifying, liberating yet tightly controlled—are easier to understand when you realize they are not necessarily contradictions. Being forbidden to develop tools for stimulating free expression or transparency essentially forces Chinese entrepreneurs to concentrate their resources on services that facilitate commerce, convenience, and entertainment. And the more successful those kinds of businesses become, the more money they and their investors have at stake, possibly cementing the status quo.

3. Zheping Huang looks at a specific case where Chinese people who previously didn't see a need to access online information and services blocked in China finally felt compelled to use a VPN to break through the Great Firewall:
Recently, hundreds of Chinese investors, who may be out $6 billion in one of China’s biggest financial scams, have leaped over the Great Firewall in an organized, determined way. After being ignored by China’s regulators and lawmakers, these desperate investors are pouring into Twitter to spread news of their plight.

While their numbers are small, their actions are already inspiring other Chinese investors burned in a monumental number of recent scams, turning Twitter into a new venue for angry Chinese citizens to protest. And as they leap over the Great Firewall, some are coming to a new realization—the government has been cracking down on free speech and civil protests just like theirs for years.

4. For something fresh from today, there is big news about Uber and Didi Chuxing:
Didi Chuxing, the dominant ride-hailing service in China, said it will acquire Uber Technologies Inc.’s operations in the country, ending a battle that has cost the two companies billions as they competed for customers and drivers.

Didi will buy Uber’s brand, business and data in the country, the Chinese company said in a statement. Uber Technologies will receive 5.89 percent of the combined company with preferred equity interest equal to 17.7 percent of the economic benefits.

5. The sale of Uber China comes as no huge surprise to many. Heather Timmons highlights how the writing was on the wall:
Then things got even worse—Beijing started to openly back Didi, with an investment by China’s sovereign wealth fund into the new Chinese giant. China’s state banks rolled out billions of dollars in loans to Didi.

In August 2015, Uber reported it was being scrubbed from WeChat, a move, Quartz wrote, that was “almost certainly designed to protect and promote Didi Kuaidi” and make it hard for Uber to do business.

6. And Josh Horowitz takes a quick look at the impact of beyond China:
Didi’s $1 billion investment in Uber likely gives it only a minuscule stake in the ride-hailing giant. But it nevertheless means it has its hands in every single one of its potential major competitors.

This changes perceptions of the future of the ride-hailing industry.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Change of Room Views in Guangdong

A view outside the window where until yesterday I recently stayed in Zhongshan, Guangdong:

view from a window in Zhongshan, China


A view outside the window where I am staying now in Shaoguan, Guangdong:

view of the Wujiang River from a window in Shaoguan, Guangdong

I wouldn't characterize the differences between the cities using these two photos, but I appreciate the change of scenery afforded by my new room nonetheless.

While I have had an easy time viewing many scenes since arriving in a city I have never visited before, I have not had an easy time viewing my own blog due to significant challenges connecting to my VPN, which I need to access a variety of blocked-in-China services. Although some potential fixes did not offer a lasting solution, things may have returned to normal, my normal at least. As usual, I can't be sure why, but in many ways much of life is like that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Little By Little: More Expression at a Hong Kong Pier

Where there was a temporary Tiananmen memorial in Hong Kong earlier this week, today the pedestrian area was back to its usual state.

people walking at the Kowloon Public Pier


Nearby, also as usual, several musical groups were performing — including Poco A Poco.

musical group Poco A Poco performing at the Kowloon Public Pier

Next to their sign was a QR code to the Poco A Poco Facebook page which expresses:
Positive Message x Hong Kong!
Spread Love
Spread Smile
Spread Happiness
Although their goals differ from those who built the memorial, Poco A Poco's use of Facebook, popular in Hong Kong but blocked in mainland China, is also a sign of how there is less censorship and more free expression in Hong Kong than almost everywhere else in China.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sneaking a Peak at The New York Times in China

sign with words "ON SALE HERE — International New York Times"

The above sign currently appears near a newsstand at the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier in Hong Kong. It caught my eye since since The New York Times is not easy to read in mainland China, especially since it is blocked online.

Despite the challenges, here is one way the Times has tried to reach people in China as described by Heather Timmons:
Every time a new article appears on the Times’s Chinese language website, three or four copies of it appear on “mirror” sites scattered around the internet. While these mirrors, like this one of the company’s home page, are often quickly made inaccessible by censors, new ones crop up constantly, often made or sanctioned by the Times. The recent hacking attack on GitHub targeted a “mirror” of the New York Times’s Chinese-language site was not set up by the Times itself, but the strategy is the same—create a webpage that points readers in China to New York Times’ Chinese language content, and circumvents censors.
For more about the situation and other methods used by the Times, read the full article by Heather Timmons on Quartz.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yahoo Leaves, Apple's Watch Copied, and GitHub Attacked: Assorted China Tech Links

In addition to other topics, I plan a return to some China tech-related themes here. For a starter, I'll share assorted excerpts of four recent pieces sans commentary by me. Much more can be found by clicking the related links.

1. Yahoo closing its office in China received a lot of media attention. Michael Smith, an ex-Yahoo employee, provided some useful perspective:
China was really just one of the last remote engineering orgs to go. Brazil gone. Indonesia gone. The centralization plan was back on target. Build in HQ – launch everywhere. Like a lot of big internet companies really.

So yes – they closed China. I don’t think it has any connection to a pull back in China since Yahoo is already gone from China. Now the engineers are too.

Big deal. Not.
2. Even before Apple's new smart watch was publicly available, you could buy an imitation of it in China. Peter Ford reported one person's account of the processes used in China's electronics copying business:
If there are product details he is unsure of, he says, “I wait for the product to come out, or ideally see if I can get it earlier than the release date.” Since so many electronic goods are made in China, where factories “are leaky, very leaky,” he adds, “people will straight up offer that stuff to you.”

Nor does a manufacturer of what the source calls “facsimiles” need to resort only to the black market to see engineering ahead of time. “Companies like Apple buy things from other providers and put them together in a pretty package,” he says. “I don’t even need to ‘pirate’ their stuff; I just buy it from the same guys who sell it to them [ie Apple].”
3. Github, an online site used by many developers worldwide for coding, has been the target of a remarkable attack. Eva Dou explains the attack and why it appears that not only is the source based in China but the Chinese government is behind it:
Mikko Hyponen, the chief research officer of cybersecurity firm F-Secure, said the attack was likely to have involved Chinese authorities because the hackers were able to manipulate Web traffic at a high level of China’s Internet infrastructure. It appeared to be a new type for China, he added. “It had to be someone who had the ability to tamper with all the Internet traffic coming into China.” he said.
4. Erik Hjelmvik at NETRESEC provides an intriguing and in-depth look at how the GitHug attack works:
We have looked closer at this attack, and can conclude that China is using their active and passive network infrastructure in order to perform a man-on-the-side attack against GitHub. See our "TTL analysis" at the end of this blog post to see how we know this is a Man-on-the-side attack.

In short, this is how this Man-on-the-Side attack is carried out:

  1. An innocent user is browsing the internet from outside China.
  2. One website the user visits loads a javascript from a server in China, for example the Badiu Analytics script that often is used by web admins to track visitor statistics (much like Google Analytics).
  3. The web browser's request for the Baidu javascript is detected by the Chinese passive infrastructure as it enters China.
  4. A fake response is sent out from within China instead of the actual Baidu Analytics script. This fake response is a malicious javascript that tells the user's browser to continuously reload two specific pages on GitHub.com.
That's all for now, folks.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Similarities of a Polluted Beijing and a Slowed Google

Yesterday, I saw Bill Bishop's photo of Beijing:

photo of a smoggy Beijing


Unsurprisingly, at the same time Beijing's air was reported as "hazardous".

Also at the same time, although my internet connection speed was good for regular access to China-based websites, it was extremely slow through the VPN I use to access blocked websites such as Twitter and Google. Here is what Google looked like for at least a minute when I tried to search for images of Beijing:


In this case, the grey placeholders for yet-to-load images seemed especially fitting. They didn't look very different from Bishop's photo or others of Beijing in heavy smog. Pollution blocking light makes one type of image common. Censorship blocking information helps make the other common for me. The visual similarity may be a coincidence, but once again there was a bit of harmony involving China's air.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Assorted Links: Internet Cafes, Johnny Cash, Needing Google, and Discouraging Protests for Democracy

Now seems like a good time for some assorted links. Here we go:

1. One man dreams of a salaried job. Another man never wants one again. They both live in a Japanese Internet cafe as featured in a video by MediaStorm.

2. On a musical note, one man:
had never been a huge music lover. His musical taste was broad, covering Dutch-language songs, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with a preference for the last named. While music did not occupy an important position in his live, his taste in music had always been very fixed and his preferences stayed the same throughout decades.
But as described in a Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience paper, with a bit of technology he "developed a sudden and distinct musical preference for Johnny Cash following deep brain stimulation".

3. Several years ago I spoke to a student in Guiyang, Guizhou, who was concerned if Google "left China" that her academic research would suffer. With most of Google's services now blocked in China, Offbeat China shares that others in China are expressing similar pragmatic concerns.

4. Finally, but definitely not least . . .

Many Hong Kongers seek a level of democracy that Beijing has indicated it won't allow, regardless of any past promises. In response to plans for large-scale protests in support of more democracy, the international Big Four accounting firms decided to pay a leading role and placed public ads in Hong Kong.

They basically say, "please don't protest for democracy, it could hurt business".

Good to know where Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte Kwan Wong Tan & Fong (Deloitte's Hong Kong unit), and PricewaterhouseCoopers stand.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Google Blocked in China (Part 10¹⁰⁰)

Recently GreatFire.org reported the increased blocking of Google's services. As described by Dan Levin in The New York Times:
The authorities in China have made Google’s services largely inaccessible in recent days, a move most likely related to the government’s broad efforts to stifle discussion of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989.

In addition to Google’s search engines being blocked, the company’s products, including Gmail, Calendar and Translate, have been affected.
I have done some repeated testing over the course of several hours at my location in Hengyang, Hunan province with the VPN I use to "break through" China's Great Firewall (GFW) turned off and using a local DNS servers. My experience was mostly consistent with what is described except I was able to reliably reach:

1. Google China's "splash page" at www.google.cn.
2. Google's map service for China at ditu.google.cn.
3. Google's translation service for China at translate.google.cn.

The map and translation services were useable, but some components didn't quickly or ever load. Notably, all of the above services appear to be based in mainland China. Mainland Chinese users are redirected to Google's Hong Kong servers for other services. Except for one brief initial moment, I have not been able to access Google's services based on servers outside of mainland China.

I would also like to comment on two sentences in the GreatFire.org post:
Back in 2009, Google decided to remove itself from China so that it no longer needed to censor its content. But it seems that Google is quite happy that GFW does the censorship work for them.
To be clear, Google has not fully removed itself from China and still has offices, employees, free lunches, etc. here. In 2010 it did stop censoring its search results per China's rules and redirected some of its services to servers in Hong Kong. I would not be surprised if Google is "quite happy" not to be censoring as it did in China before. But I doubt they would characterize the GFW as doing "the censorship work for them". Google has already made it clear it would no longer censor regardless. My guess is that Google prefers the GFW selectively blocking Google search over completely blocking it. But what would make them "quite happy" is if the GFW ceased to exist.

During the course of today's testing, I noticed some curiosities that deserve further attention. If they prove noteworthy, I will share them while also moving forward with posts on other themes.

Finally, as this post proves since I need to access blocked-in-China Blogger to write it, my VPN is working as usual at the moment.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Online Ads in China for Breaking Through the Great Firewall

In previous years, I have documented some of the impact of China's Great Firewall, which selectively blocks or interferes with websites and services on the Internet in China. When I typically connect to the Internet, though, I use a paid-for personal virtual private network (VPN). The VPN allows me to have an online experience as if I were outside of China and not directly affected by the Great Firewall. China has at times taken efforts to block personal VPNs, but the companies providing them can offer new ways to connect. It can feel somewhat like a game of Whac-A-Mole.

Recently, I stopped by a cafe in Hengyang, Hunan province, and sat at a table which had a computer with Internet access. I took advantage of the opportunity to see whether what I saw on a "local" computer presumably not using a VPN differed from what I had seen while not using a VPN on my own computer. Most seemed the same. For example, my own blog was partially blocked, likely due to it having a non-blocked domain name but being hosted on Google's Blogger, which is blocked in China. To serve as a sort of baseline, part of my quick exploration included visiting several foreign websites that I would not expect to be blocked in China. One aspect of what I saw offers an opportunity to highlight some issues regarding VPN usage in China.

I checked ESPN's sports website first. After an initial pause, it loaded and based on just looking at it nothing was obviously amiss*.

ESPN home page with an ad for a VPN service on a computer in Hengyang, China

But one portion of the screen jumped out at me: an advertisement for a "VPN for China" from GoTrusted with the selling point of unblocking websites such as Facebook and YouTube.

I clicked the ad and GoTrusted's website quickly loaded.

GoTrusted home page on a computer in Hengyang, China


Next, I checked two blogs offering viewpoints from different sides of the American political spectrum. One, Balloon Juice, has a more liberal perspective and was not blocked.

Balloon Juice home page with an ad for a VPN service on a computer in Hengyang, China


It had an ad for another site offering VPNs, vpngfw.com. Facebook and China were again both specifically mentioned. I clicked the ad and the site loaded without any apparent problem.

vpngfw.com home page on a computer in Hengyang, China


The other blog I visited, Hot Air, offers a more conservative perspective and loaded without any obvious problems as well.

Hot Air home page with an ad for two VPN services on a computer in Hengyang, China


Not only did Hot Air include ads for both of the previously mentioned VPNs, but it also had other ads such as "Explore Topeka" and "Immigration Attorney".

China probably isn't too concerned about ESPN, Balloon Juice, Hot Air, or information on Topeka, but what about the VPN advertisements? Regarding foreign companies offering VPNs, in 2010 CNN reported:
Steve Dickinson, a China-based lawyer with Harris & Moure, an international business law firm, said that companies supplying VPN products in China are technically breaking Chinese law.

"China has no jurisdiction over such persons. As long as they do not physically enter China, there is no risk," he said in an email to CNN.
To which Dan Harris on the China Law Blog added:
... if I were the president of one of these VPN companies, I would at least think long and hard before going to China. And if I were super paranoid, I might even want to know which countries might or might not extradite me to China.
And last year The Wall Street Journal reported:
While companies use commercial VPN services routinely for secure data, foreigners, China's elite and other tech-savvy users can use personal VPNs to leap the Great Firewall to use services like Facebook.

But it is illegal for foreign companies to operate a VPN in China without a local partner, according to lawyers and state-run media ...
GoTrusted, the company I saw advertised on ESPN and Hot Air, lists a U.S. address in Stuart, Florida, on its "About" page and the registrant information for its domain name also has a Stuart, Florida, address. GoTrusted does not mention a Chinese partner.

Vpngfw.com, the company I saw advertised on Balloon Juice and Hot Air, is a different case. Its "About" page does not provide a location and only lists an email address. The registrant information for its domain name, though, shows an address in Shanghai, China, with a street I haven't been able to locate on an online map.

This raises a number of questions about the service. For example, is the "company" running vpngfw.com based in mainland China? If it is, has it registered its services with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as it reportedly should? If it isn't based in mainland China, where is it based and why is a Chinese address and phone number listed for the registrant of its domain name? Questions like these aren't only relevant for determining any potential legal jeopardy faced by the company. VPNs should also provide a degree of anonymity, privacy, and security through effective data encryption. I would need to know more about vpngfw.com before potentially having confidence I could trust it to meet my expectations in that regards.

Whatever the case may be with GoTrusted and vpngfw.com, one can ask whether it is technically illegal to use VPNs in China that are operated by foreign companies technically breaking Chinese law. The site VPN Instructions had this to say in commenting on the WSJ article:
It is not illegal to use a VPN in China if the Virtual Private Network’s nodes and servers are outside of mainland China. The Shanghai-based lawyer we conferred with, along with our deep understanding of China’s Internet landscape, shows us that there are no laws on the books in China that prohibit any user in China from connecting to a VPN outside of mainland China.
I don't know whether the relevant government authorities in China would agree. And I wouldn't tell someone they are 100% in the clear using a VPN from a company operating illegally in China. But I am personally not too worried unless signs appear that China believes it is illegal. I am not aware of anyone being arrested simply for using these VPNs. And China surely knows they are being used.

So some companies are technically breaking Chinese laws by offering VPN services in China, and the users of those VPNs appear to be in the clear, at least at the moment. What about sites with ads for VPNs?

If the VPN is operating legally in China, presumably there are no problems advertising it. If it isn't, I don't know, and I can think of several issues, such as the location of the servers placing the ads, which may be relevant. It would be great to hear from some lawyers and relevant authorities on this topic.

Finally, if ESPN, Balloon Juice, and Hot Air felt concerned about this issue, I suspect they would point out they are not choosing the specific ads to display. The URL for all of the VPN ads began with "www.googleadservices.com". This indicates the ads were placed through Google's advertising service AdSense. Yes, Google, a company with several services blocked in China, is placing VPN ads targeting people who want to be able to access blocked-in-China websites. In other words, it is being paid to do something that could lead to more users being able to fully access its services. There is a certain beauty in that, although I'm sure the money Google earns this way is nothing compared to the additional revenue Google could generate if the Great Firewall ceased to exist.

The above examples are from just three US-based English websites. There is much more to the story of how VPNs are promoted in China. But these ads highlight the current relative "freedom" in China to use VPNs, even if they are periodically blocked and the companies running them are afoul of Chinese law. And they are another sign of how in some ways China's censorship is not as clear cut as most walls, great or not.




*The Chinese words near the bottom of all of the screenshots are the lyrics to songs playing on the computer and not related to the displayed websites.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Longer Than Planned Note About Embedded Tweets

A timeout for blog-related technical issues:

For some readers, embedded tweets from Twitter may not appear as intended and lose some of their effect. "Selfless Selfies" is an example of a post with an embedded tweet. If you didn't see a photo in that post, then you didn't see a fully rendered embedded tweet which should look like this:

A non-functional image of a fully rendered embedded tweet

Instead, you probably saw a stripped-down tweet with links to relevant material, such as images and the original tweet on Twitter, like this:
What do you call a selfie taken by someone dedicated to overcoming selfhood? http://t.co/h039cHyZ79 pic.twitter.com/1W4WoKo92t
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) February 24, 2014
Seeing the stripped-down version is often due to viewing the post through an RSS reader*, viewing the post on a mobile device, having JavaScript disabled, or being blocked to Twitter's content by China's Great Firewall**.

The experience isn't entirely broken when the embedded tweets aren't fully rendered, and it's not very different from simply quoting a tweet. So I use them even though I realize many readers won't see them in their full glory. Writing this, though, makes me wonder if in the future I should "pull out" images from tweets so more people can easily see them, which I think is how I did it long ago. Embedded tweets are great when they fully render but ... reality and all that.

While I'm taking this timeout, I'll mention a somewhat related topic: I've noticed that in some RSS readers the formatting of my blog posts does not appear as intended, especially in regards to captions for images, and odd spacings appear. I'm not sure whether it's an issue with the RSS readers, Blogger, me, or something else. Like with embedded tweets, one possible "fix" is to view the posts at the blog website. If you know of a fix from my side, though, please let me know.

Anyway, if you didn't know before, hopefully now you understand a bit more. If the above has entirely confused you and you weren't aware of any problems, fear not, this post is nearly finished. But seriously, feel free to contact me if you have questions. It's possible I have answers***.

Enjoy ...



* Some RSS readers, such as NewsBlur, offer a view where embedded tweets can appear as intended.

** My blog as a whole is partially blocked in China due to being hosted on Blogger.

*** Or more questions.

Monday, November 11, 2013

China's Great Firewall Says Hello

I have not be able to post here for a few days due to significant problems in using my VPN. Without a properly functioning VPN, I am at the mercy of China's Great Firewall. This means a variety of sites are blocked, including Blogger which I use to publish this blog. For reasons I am unable to completely explain, there are occasionally periods of time when I can still reach blocked-in-China sites. If this post publishes, it means I was able to take advantage of one. This actually represents an improvement from yesterday.

My VPN provider is trying to solve the problem, which at least in part appears to be the result of some crafty strategies being used by the Great Firewall, although there are other issues which also concern me. It is almost as fascinating as it is frustrating. I don't know how many others are affected by what I'm experiencing. I also don't know if it is specific to me, Zhuhai, or Guangdong province. For now, I will just add that it was a year ago when I last had so many problems with the Great Firewall.

Hopefully an effective solution can soon be found. Perhaps more on this topic later.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Washington Post's WorldViews Corrects Statements About Google China

Yesterday I pushed back against Caitlin Dewey's claims in the blog post "Wikipedia largely alone in defying Chinese self-censorship demands" on The Washington Times. Amongst other issues, I pointed out that the statement "Google China complies with government censorship laws and does not surface pages related to to banned topics" was not accurate.

Dewey later provided an update, which I noted in an update to my post:
Dewey provided the following update to her post:
Samuel Wade at the China Digital Times points out that, while Google formally follows local censorship laws, it also quietly redirects Chinese users from Google.cn to Google.hk — which helps them avoid mainland filtering.
Hmm... I'll just say that the biggest impact of redirecting users in mainland China to Google's Hong Kong site is it allows Google to legally not censor search results as required by mainland Chinese law. However, the Great Firewall selectively filters those searches. Google offers encrypted search, which would be difficult for the Great Firewall to filter, but that's often entirely blocked by the Great Firewall. I just tried the encrypted search now and was able to successfully search for a typically blocked query. However, I was soon blocked from continued use of Google. This "messy" sort of blocking is very common with Google in China.
More recently, Dewey edited her post again:
Correction: This post originally stated that Google formally complies with government censorship laws in China. While that is the company’s policy in other countries, it has not been Google’s policy in China since 2010. The post has been corrected.
Ah...

The corrections include this section on Google:
Google: Google has a long and complicated legacy in China, which has put it on both sides of the censorship debate. Since 2010, however, Google’s Chinese search has been based out of Hong Kong, where Chinese censorship laws don’t apply. (Outside of China, the company has a policy of removing pages from search as required by law — in Germany, for instance, the site takes down pages that glorify Nazism.) In January, Google China removed a feature that told users when their results were censored.
Dewey still does not mention that Wikipedia's encrypted version is currently blocked in China. This provides important context for her point that "Wikipedia offers an encrypted version of the site to help users evade the firewall" and another example of how Wikipedia is not "alone" in China.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wikipedia is Not Alone in China

In the WorldViews blog post "Wikipedia largely alone in defying Chinese self-censorship demands", Caitlin Dewey makes several claims deserving response.

Dewey writes:
Most of the sites that operate in China obey censorship rules, which ban information on politically sensitive topics such Tibet, the spiritual movement Falun Gong, and the 1989 protests and crackdown most commonly associated with Tiananmen Square.

When it comes to defying censors outright, Wikipedia is an exception, though China’s Great Firewall also blocks a number of prominent American sites. (That doesn’t necessarily imply a stance against censorship on the blocked site’s part — YouTube and Blogspot are both owned by Google, for instance, which already filters results on its search platform within China.)

1. Google: Google China complies with government censorship laws and does not surface pages related to to banned topics. In January, Google removed a feature that told users when their results were censored.
However, Google does not filter "results on its search platform within China". As Google announced on March 22, 2010:
... earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.
As far as I can tell, this remains true today.

Dewey's claim that Wikipedia is "an exception" and "largely alone" appears to be specific to "top 10 American Web sites by global traffic" which "operate" in China and do not censor in accordance with China's laws. By "operate", I assume Dewey means "are not blocked" since none of Wikipedia's servers are in China. In regards to Wikipedia, Dewey writes:
Wikipedia doesn’t censor its content in China, regardless of language, though China’s Great Firewall automatically blocks controversial pages. Wikipedia offers an encrypted version of the site to help users evade the firewall.
As Dewey notes,  selected "sensitive" articles are indeed blocked in China -- similar to how Google Search is now selectively blocked by the Great Firewall. But this is not all that is blocked. Wikipedia’s entire encrypted version is now blocked in China.

So yes, Wikipedia does not censor according to Chinese laws. But the same could be said of at least half of the other "top 10 American Web sites by global traffic", including Google Search. And yes, unlike Wikipedia, several of those sites which don't censor according to Chinese laws, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are entirely blocked by China's Great Firewall. But Wikipedia does not operate normally in China and faces significant blocking despite being partially available. And it is not alone in that respect. Just ask Google.



Update: Dewey provided the following update to her post:
Samuel Wade at the China Digital Times points out that, while Google formally follows local censorship laws, it also quietly redirects Chinese users from Google.cn to Google.hk — which helps them avoid mainland filtering.
Hmm... I'll just say that the biggest impact of redirecting users in mainland China to Google's Hong Kong site is it allows Google to legally not censor search results as required by mainland Chinese law. However, the Great Firewall selectively filters those searches. Google offers encrypted search, which would be difficult for the Great Firewall to filter, but that's often entirely blocked by the Great Firewall. I just tried the encrypted search now and was able to successfully search for a typically blocked query. However, I was soon blocked from continued use of Google. This "messy" sort of blocking is very common with Google in China.

Update 2: Dewey's post has been updated again with corrections. For some brief commentary, see my more recent post here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Another Day of Great Firewall Fun

Since I last commented here on the challenges of using a VPN to "break through" China's Great Firewall, I would say the situation has generally improved (from my perspective) but occasional problems persist. One question I had was whether any of the problems I was experiencing were specific to my location. On that note, after arriving in Shanghai I noticed a nearly identical pattern of problems to those that had creeped up during my last few days in Changsha.

However, the situation was very different today when I went online at a cafe in Shanghai. I could not use my VPN at all. Otherwise, everything seemed "normal" (for China's censored Internet). Since my experience the past 2 days had been especially unproblematic, I wondered if this new VPN problem was somehow specific to the cafe.

Hours later and now at another location in Shanghai, I am not having any problems. But it does not appear I should place the cafe on any sort of blacklist, which is good because I like their food. A quick look at Twitter makes it clear that others in China experienced VPN difficulties during the same time as me.

So what accounts for today's changes? I've seen some speculation, but I'm not going to even try to make a guess right now. I simply share this to provide a taste of some of the challenges and uncertainty one can face when using (and relying on) a personal VPN in China.

Friday, November 16, 2012

More Great Firewall Fun

In my previous post sharing some of the recent challenges in using a VPN to get through China's Great Firewall, I mentioned that I expected to find my own situation to be much better or much worse the next morning.

At first, all seemed fine and I was able to use my VPN without much problem. However, later in the day it was almost entirely unusable. And now it seems to be OK again*. My hope is that with the ending of China's 18th National Congress on Wednesday and the unveiling of the new leadership on Thursday that VPN access will not continue to be such a challenge.

So while I have a working VPN connection, here's a photo:

Bridge crossing the Xiang River in Changsha, China

Perhaps you can find some symbolism in it. Perhaps I am just in the mood to share a photo of a bridge.

Whatever the case, I hope to return to more typical posts tomorrow assuming my Internet connection in China is back to "normal".


*Update: Of course just after publishing this, some problems with the VPN connection returned. Ah... time to sleep.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

China's Great Firewall Raised Higher for a Party

As Paul Mozur noted last week:
...in recent weeks concern about the Internet has taken primacy as access to websites – especially foreign websites and virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allow users to circumvent Chinese Internet filters – has deteriorated.

The likely reason is the weeklong 18th Party Congress, a highly scripted but nevertheless critical political event scheduled to culminate with the unveiling of Communist Party’s next generation of leaders.

Chinese authorities routinely move to exert more control over the Internet around big meetings and politically sensitive dates, including by disrupting traffic to foreign websites outside the country’s censorship system, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall. But a number of users have complained of unusually frequent disruptions in the run-up to the 18th Party Congress...
See the article here for more details.

I too have had growing problems using my VPN during the past several weeks and have needed customer support from the U.S. on several occasions to resolve them. My impression is that some of the methods being used by the Great Firewall are more sophisticated than what I have experienced before.

At this moment, I can only maintain brief connections to my VPN before being disconnected. However, unlike previous times I can't rule out that there isn't a more general problem with my Internet connection. So I will apply a method that seems apt for this hour: I will go to sleep. My recent experience is that things will be either be much better or much worse when I wake up.

FYI -- without a functional VPN I am not able to post here since Blogger remains blocked in China. This and the fact that I have spent much time trying to better understand the blocking are some of the reasons I have not gotten around to several posts I had planned for this week. They're still in the pipeline though.

I will only be able to publish this post by waiting for a brief window during which I am connected to the VPN--assuming one opens again.

So far this is not working. Hopefully this can slip through on one of the tries...

More later.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Updates for Assorted Posts: Panties, Great Firewall, and a Treadmill

I have updates for several posts that don't require a full post on their own and will be missed by many if I now append them to the original posts. So I will share them together here in a single post.

1. After a photo of a fan and hanging clothes in the post "College Dormitories in China: Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha" I wrote:
If you are now fretting over me sharing a photo of the young women's underwear, don't take your panties off.
If that struck you as a peculiar choice of words, I would agree. After recently rereading the post I realized I had messed up a potentially timely use of words. I am not sure why fretting over the photo would have caused anyone to take their panties off. That sentence in the post has been edited to what was intended:
If you are now fretting over me sharing a photo of the young women's underwear, don't get your panties in a bunch.
I apologize for any misunderstanding due to my mangling of an idiom.

2. I have already made four updates in the post "The New York Times and Google Searches for 'New York Times' Blocked in China". Go to the post to read them. The gist was that James Griffiths in the Shanghaiist hypothesized The New York Times was not really blocked in China and the site was merely experiencing difficulties due to heavy traffic. I explained why that made little sense. In response Griffiths retracted his traffic problems theory and later in response to another post he also retracted his skepticism that The Times was blocked in China.

But I have yet another update now. I recently retested and The Times remains blocked, at least at my location in Changsha, Hunan province. Also, a search on Google for "New York Times" still leads to no results and only a connection reset error page (the exact wording depends on the browser used). And as before, no such blocking occurs on either Baidu or Bing and both provide results including links to The Times website.

3. Finally, in the post "A Stationary Child in Motion" I shared a photo of a young girl running on a treadmill. I passed by the same treadmill today, but it was being used very differently by a young boy.



At least he's still getting some exercise.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The New York Times and Google Searches for "New York Times" Blocked in China

4 Updates at end

In a new development (or one could say a repeat of an older one), The New York Times is now blocked in China. As Keith Bradsher reports in The New York Times today:
The Chinese government swiftly blocked access Friday morning to the English-language and Chinese-language Web sites of The New York Times from computers in mainland China in response to the news organization’s decision to post an article in both languages describing wealth accumulated by the family of the country’s prime minister.

The authorities were also blocking attempts to mention The Times or the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, in postings on Sina Weibo, an extremely popular mini-blogging service in China that resembles Twitter...

By 7 a.m. Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Web sites of The Times was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested. The Times had posted the article in English at 4:34 p.m. on Thursday in New York (4:34 a.m. Friday in Beijing), and finished posting the article in Chinese three hours later after the translation of final edits to the English-language version.

Publication of the article about Mr. Wen and his family comes at a delicate time in Chinese politics, during a year in which factional rivalries and the personal lives of Chinese leaders have come into public view to a rare extent and drawn unprecedented international interest.
I am not sure which 31 cities The Times tested, but their site appears to be blocked where I am now at in Changsha, Hunan province.

I have also found that searching for "New York Times" on Google leads to an interruption in service and no page is returned--again apparently the result of blocking in China. There is no such problem searching for "New York".  This problem only results when using the "regular" non-secure version of Google. If secure SSL search is in use (the URL will contain "https"), then no problems arise. This makes sense since it is not possible for China's Great Firewall to "see" the search terms under these conditions. Implicit in this is that I had did not find Google's SSL search to be blocked.

However, at the moment searching for "New York Times" on Baidu, China's leading search site, or Bing's Chinese site (http://cn.bing.com) leads to no problems and results include links to the The New York Times website. Of course, the link is not particularly useful since the website is still blocked.

Also, previously the Google News site for users in mainland China (http://news.google.com.hk/nwshp?hl=zh-CN&tab=wn) appears to be blocked, but the sites for Hong Kong (http://news.google.com.hk/) and the U.S. (http://news.google.com) were not blocked. However, now the Hong Kong news site appears to be blocked too (although it may depend on the series of steps used to access it). There seems to be more to be sorted out here, so I will just leave it at this.

On the side... My own website remains partially blocked in China. This mix of results is likely due to it being hosted on Blogger (which is blocked) but it using its own domain name (which is not blocked). It is one of the reasons I don't use Blogger's default method for posting images, otherwise they would not be viewable in China. Anyways, I will keep tabs on its accessibility. For my most recent in-depth review of access to websites such as Amazon, Facebook, Google+, Windows Live, and Yahoo! in China see here.

More updates later if there are any new developments.

Update 1: James Griffths in the Shanghaiist writes that they are finding mixed results for their own tests of whether The New York Times is accessible in China. He hypothesizes:
Any failures by netizens within China to access nytimes.com may also be related to the sheer mass of traffic that always swamps sites once they claim to be blocked, as everyone checks to see if reports are true (as well as the extra attention the site was getting for it's pretty spectacular report on Wen Jiaobo).
This seems highly unlikely to me since I had absolutely no problem accessing the site when I used my VPN (which can allow one to "break through" China's Great Firewall) during the testing. As I soon as I turned off the VPN I could not access the site. Assuming traffic is being directed to the same place in both cases, I don't see how heavy traffic could account for this. Given the other reports that The Times has been blocked, I do not believe I had an unusual experience.

Update 2: Graham Webster also pushes back against the story in the Shanghaiist. To his points I will add that my own tests suggest the blocking is not occurring through DNS servers since I tested using non-local DNS.

Update 3: In response to my points James Griffiths updated his report to retract his "previous assertion that the NYT site could be suffering from traffic problems".

Update 4: Earlier, in his post Griffiths placed little faith in much of the reported evidence of The Times being blocked in large part due the reports of greatfirewallofchina.org. I have concerns about the results presented on such sites and was far more convinced by reports from numerous reputable sources and my own experiences. In his latest update (at the end of the post), Griffiths shares his change of heart:
It has been pointed out to me that greatfirewallofchina.org doesn't detect reset connections which seems to be the problem most people are experiencing when they try to access the site. In the face of overwhelming anecdotal evidence I am retracting my initial scepticism about the NYT being blocked.
China's Great Firewall is a complex beast and it can present some "fuzzy" situations. Nevertheless, I, like Griffiths now, think there is sufficient evidence to say The New York Times is currently blocked in China.