Google, Yahoo! & China



There has been a recent flurry of articles discussing Google’s involvement with China, specifically concerning Google’s removal of specific sites that are blocked in China from their Chinese News portal (for Internet users located in China). But unlike Yahoo!’s self-censorship of their China portal in official compliance with the “Public Pledge on Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry” Google claims that it “remains the only major search engine that does not censor any web pages”. Despite the ommision of blocked sites, Google News is now reportedly blocked in its entirety. These articles bring up broader issues of corporate collusion with China�s filtering and surveillance matrix that is used to implement strict information control policies. In my view, by conforming with China’s strict information control policies companies are normalizing a climate of censorship.

There are several issues involved here: the sale of hardware and software that is used for Internet filtering; knowledge transfer, training and expertise used for Internet filtering; and compliance with self-censorship regulations concerning content. On the first two, companies consistently deny being directly involved with China’s Internet filtering. It is difficult to prove intent here, but it is widely known that technologies with sophisticated filtering and surveillance capabilities have been sold by Western corporations to China. Self-censorship and filtering practices, however, can be tested and exposed.

The most well known case of self-censorship is Yahoo!’s compliance with the “Public Pledge on Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry” that prohibits “establishing links to the websites that contain harmful information”. In practice, this has resulted in the filtering of results from Yahoo!’s China portal (not chinese language Yahoo!).

A search for 藏 (tibet) restricted to .gov websites in Chinese language Yahoo! produces results including voa.gov
A search for 藏 (tibet) restricted to .gov websites in Yahoo!’s China Portal produces results that do not include voa.gov
A search for 藏 (tibet) restricted to voa.gov websites in Chinese language Yahoo! produces results.
A search for 藏 (tibet) restricted to voa.gov websites Yahoo!’s China Portal does not produce results.

* When testing be sure to select search terms that do not trigger China’s backbone filtering system, otherwise blocking may occur that is completely independent of Yahoo!’s de-listing of results.

The Google search engine has been blocked by China in the past and is also the target of specific filtering by China to block access to the Google cache. But recently, Google has also begun to de-list results from their Chinese Language version of Google News for users located in China. I tested the Chinese Language Google News portal in September to test for filtering after Bill Xia’s initial report and confirmed that filtering was occurring when accessing Chinese Language Google News from China. It is actually a form of geolocation filtering since users that access the Chinese Language Google News, from anywhere but China, are not subjected to the filtering and receive full search results.

Google explains their decision to remove certain sites from Google News search results for users in China:

Google News does not show news stories, but rather links to news stories. So links to stories published by blocked news sources would not work for users inside the PRC — if they clicked on a headline from a blocked source, they would get an error page. It is possible that there would be some small user value to just seeing the headlines. However, simply showing these headlines would likely result in Google News being blocked altogether in China.

I am disappointed that Google filters web sites that are blocked in China from their Chinese Language News service. Maybe I expect more from Google, but keeping the results in would have highlighted Internet censorship in China and allowed Chinese Internet users to see what content they are be denied access to. The worst that would have happened to Google, as they acknowledge, is that their News service could have been blocked. What is ironic about the case is that despite Google’s self-censorship the Google News web site is, reportedly, now blocked in its entirety in China. Well, actually it is sort of blocked. Some IP addresses (that news.google.com resolves to) are blocked but IP addresses that resolve to www.google.com are accessible.

Using DNS servers in China I resolved www.google.com and news.google.com.

www.google.com resolves to 64.233.161.104, 216.239.59.104, 66.102.9.99, 64.233.189.104, 216.239.57.103, 64.233.167.104, 216.239.63.104, 64.233.179.99, 216.239.37.104 *[Also in news.google.com results], 216.239.39.104 and news.google.com resolves to 216.239.37.104, 216.239.37.99, 216.239.37.147

Tests confirm that access to the latter three IP addresses is blocked when connecting from computers located in China. Further testing, with traceroute, shows that the IP addresses are not accessible, packets are droppped at the backbone hop.

Access to www.google.com IP adresses is successful from Beijing, China.
Access to www.google.com IP adresses is successful from Shanghai, China.
Access to news.google.com IP addresses is not successful from Beijing, China.
Access to news.google.com IP addresses is not successful from Shanghai, China.

The content for both the Google search engine and Google News (English & Chinese) accessible via each IP address. So Google, Google News (US) and Google News (CN) are all accessible in China via this IP address:

http://64.233.161.104/
http://64.233.161.104/news?ned=us&hl=en
http://64.233.161.104/news?ned=cn&hl=zh-CN

However, none of the Google services are accessible via this IP address:

http://216.239.37.99/
http://216.239.37.99/news?ned=us&hl=en
http://216.239.37.99/news?ned=cn&hl=zh-CN

So, user in China will find Google News accessible or blocked depending on which IP address the user’s DNS server resolves the domain to.

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