Using the internet in the People's Republic of China
Our man reports from inside the Great Firewall
China makes no secret of its desire, and ability, to control internet access, but even at a glance it's clear that the Great Firewall Of China leaks like the proverbial sieve.
We had the chance to try our hand at breaching that wall on a recent trip to visit Huawei in Shenzhen. Our hosts kindly supplied us with China Mobile SIMs for data access so we could see the internet as the Chinese see it, and we managed to test out wi-fi connectivity at a local hotel with similar results - only the hotel wi-fi didn't kick us off entirely for asking the wrong questions.
Cisco provides the racks of servers used by the Chinese government to monitor, and block, access to specific services and information. Unsurprisingly the system is easy for the technically literate to circumnavigate, if we'd been using a UK SIM then our traffic would be routed via the UK operator and thus past the firewall. Even without paying ruinous roaming rates it's not difficult to do most things, though the blocks still crop up often enough to irritate if one is used to unfettered internet access.
Social networking? Ah, you mean QQ
The blocking is almost entirely HTTP related – specific websites are disallowed on the basis of their URL. That includes services such as Facebook and Twitter, but only the websites; the westerner travelling in China will have no problem using app clients out widgets over hotel Wi-Fi and cellular, though the Twitter (SMS) short code won't forward.
The same rules apply to email. Encrypted IMAP works fine, and Gmail continues to synchronise with it's Android (our similar) client, but try accessing any part of Gmail, or any GMail-hosted service (such as the El Reg mailboxes), on a browser and the Chocolate Factory's email service is permanently off line.
Attempting to load any of the prohibited web sites results in a 'site not found' error, just as if one had mistyped the address or Twitter.com just didn't exist. Locals were aware of the blocks, but didn't consider it remarkable and simply pointed out that all countries block content that they find socially unacceptable, it's just a matter of where the lines are drawn.
More interesting were the results of a contentious search. Google's URL forwards to Hong Kong from China, and mostly works, but search for "Tiananmen Square" and suddenly the cellular connection drops out entirely and has to be reconnected, not a browser error but a disconnected data session. Spell "tanaminm" badly enough and the firewall will miss it, but Google will correct the spelling and return the search results. That's not very useful, as clicking on any of the pertinent ones will result in the "site not found" error popping up again.
Next page: Your mobile data connection may be affected
China firewall shenanigans...
Having lived in Shanghai for the last year, I have found through research and experimentation that there's always a way around it. Much of the blocking is done randomly so that it looks like heavy traffic. The socket connections are randomly reset, though seems to happen more often with Google.
The local DNS is all poisoned so you have to use a reliable 3rd party DNS server, though many of the VPN service providers offer them. I heard about the recent VPN crackdown, bub it didn't affect me as I use a lesser known provider. Still, everyone's up and running again when the VPN companies figure a way around in this game of cat and mouse.
Kind of ridiculous, really since according to most educated locals I've spoken with, there is always access to outside material if you want it badly enough.
Lest any of you think that this sort of thing is in any way benign or for the good of the people, or any of that crap, let me tell you that it is certainly not. People are jailed, beaten up or even killed by corrupt officials who remain unrepentent and offend repeatedly because few people know about it. At least where I come from when those things happen the offender is carted off to jail.
Sure, most people might not care, but that's because they get all their information from state-controlled media, which issues weekly directives on what to publish, where and the angle of the propaganda. Who knows what China would be like if people could read and say what they liked...?
"because of the harm it does children"?
I thought child porn was blocked because it was easier than dealing with the real problem.
And if child porn is blocked because of the harm it does children, what about blocking of websites in the Digital Economy Act? Do IPR infringements hurt cuddly bunnies?
"It's not a peaceful government who kicks you out of your home and gives you practically nothing in compensation just because the Olympics are coming to town,"
Erm, this happened to Clays Lane residents in Stratford