Friday, March 25, 2011

What Google, Baidu, and Sogou Results for "Witopia" Say About China's Great Firewall

Previously, I wrote that some cheap/free services openly distributed online in China for gaining access to an uncensored Internet were not apparently impacted by the recent expansion of China's Great Firewall (see here for who was affected and here for comments on the timing).  I also suggested the possibility that they were spared because they allowed China to maintain a degree of monitoring (see here).

There is one particularly intriguing candidate for a program that the Chinese Government may have wanted to spare.  It is called "Witopia" -- not the Witopia based in the US but a "copycat" program being distributed in China with the same name.  At least one person familiar with VPN services (I'll withhold their name unless I can be sure it is OK to share) has said it doesn't appear to be encrypting data -- a significant and striking failing for a VPN (again, for how VPNs and the Great Firewall work see here).

Is there any evidence the flawed fake Witopia is being promoted in China?

Today, I checked Baidu (Google's main competitor in China), Sogou (another search web site in China), and Google China's search service.  I conducted a search for "Witopia".

You can see a capture of the full first page of a search for "Witopia" on Baidu here (click to see a larger version):

Baidu results page for a search on Witopia

Here is today's first page for a similar search on Sogou:

Sogou results page for a search on Witopia

And finally, on Google China:

Google results page for a search on Witopia

Yes, those are really 3 different search web sites.  I'll save a discussion of Copyright/Trademark issues for another day (if you can't wait... for a potential Dairy Queen example in China see here and for a "Google Hotel" example in Vietnam see here).

Of relevance to the current topic, Baidu didn't return the legitimate Witopia web site in even the first 100 results.  Based on a search for "" I strongly suspect it was not there at all.  Likewise, on Sogou the real Witopia web site did not appear.  However, on both sites there were numerous links to apparently fake versions of Witopia.

Google China was the only one of the three sites readily displaying the real Witopia site -- in fact it is the very first link.  This page was not being blocked by the Great Firewall (however, the Great Firewall would block any attempts to actually access the Witopia site).

It is not particularly surprising that Baidu and Sogou apparently don't include the real Witopia web site in their search results since the Witopia site itself is blocked in China and the Great Firewall's recent expansion impacted Witopia's services.

However, it is notable that numerous links for apparently fake copies of "Witopia" remain on Baidu and Sogou.  Why show them if they work as advertised and China wants to stop people from getting through the Great Firewall?  The programs are obviously not hidden from view and are being heavily promoted on Chinese web sites.

Again, as I mentioned above it is possible the Chinese Government wants the fake Witopias to be used because of their "flaws" (such as a lack of encryption) that enable some sort of monitoring.  It may be for this reason they remain clearly displayed on Chinese web sites that have taken the trouble to remove the real Witopia web site.

I'm in the midst of some other explorations on this and related topics.  More may come soon.

Additional notes:

1.  The real Witopia site was listed first on the Microsoft Bing site for China as well (and the page was not censored).  There are some subtle twists in how Bing censors for searches in China/Chinese so I'm not yet comfortable interpretting my results (see here under "Regional censorship" and "Censorship in China").  For that reason I left it out of the above examples.

2.  I have not tested the fake versions of Witopia or other "VPNs" apparently developed in China.  I don't have a spare computer and I don't feel safe putting them on a computer with my work/personal information.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! This wouldn't even have crossed my mind, the Chinese knockoffs of Witopia, and yet, it's so obvious.

    Have you heard of freegate? That's what all the teachers at my school were using.