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Chinese Kindles hop firewall to freedom

Reader and Amazon servers provide nifty browsing loophole

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Kindle users in China are able to surf the internet unimpeded by the Great Firewall, as the authorities have yet to recognise the threat the e-book reader represents.

The Kindle isn't officially available in China yet, though grey imports are bought and sold on local auction sites. Once activated, it has emerged, the Kindle's "experimental" browser offers unrestricted surfing thanks to a reliance on Amazon‘s servers and negligence on the part of China's censors.

China has long operated a huge firewall protecting the country from the influence of the US-dominated internet, or ensuring its citizens only get access to media that falls under governmental control, depending on your point of view. The firewall is not leak free. Its scale ensures that it can be easily circumvented by the technically literate, but to the vast majority it's an impassable barrier they don't even know exists.

Nor, in most cases, do people care: information about human rights and political shenanigans is vitally important to a civilised society, but few people will go out and look for it. The general public needs big letters on the front page before they'll care about such things, which is why China doesn't bother trying to make the Great Firewall completely impermeable.

The Kindle's browser always connects via Amazon's servers which optimise the sites being viewed - there's no point in downloading colour pictures or JavaScript code to an e-book reader. Since those servers aren't on the blocked list then Kindle surfing is unrestricted.

But once more than a few people start doing it, or Amazon launches the device in China, then the firewall will descend and Kindle users will get the same sanitised version of the internet as everyone else in China. Given the firewall-busting details which have appeared in the South China Morning Post, it won't be long before the service is blocked.

To truly go over the top of the wall you need satellite internet access from a company not beholden to the Chinese government (something Teledesic once promised). Other than that we'll just have to keep pushing the diplomatic route and hope that China comes to realise the advantages of unrestricted access to information. ®

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