Since March 30, 2010—just about a year ago—searching via all Google search sites has been banned in Mainland China. Now, Google is accusing the Chinese government of interfering with its Gmail email system.
Over the past month, Chinese customers and advertisers have been complaining about problems with sending messages, marking messages as unread and other services, says the Guardian. An application that Google has set up to help people find relatives and friends lost in the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has also been compromised. Google has made it clear that, in the words of a Google spokesperson, “This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”
Indeed, according to Wikileaks cables, ‘China’s political elite have a love hate relationship with the internet.’ They both like it for the information they can glean from the internet—such as last month’s anonymous calls for a ‘jasmine revolution‘; Chinese authorities made sure that no protests like those in the Middle East could occur by stationing security forces in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere —but also ‘extremely concerned by the threat they perceive it presents to their authority.’
The Chinese government exercises very strict controls over the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all blocked in China. Last month, China launched a new search engine, Panguso, which appears to be even more restricted than the largest search engine in China, Baidu. The Guardian notes that ‘searches on Panguso reportedly produced no results for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo,’ who is currently in prison and whose wife is essentially a ‘hostage.’
Says the Guardian:
The announcement follows a blog posting from Google on 11 March in which the firm said it had “noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users. We believe activists may have been a specific target.” The posting said the attacks were targeting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser. The two firms have been working to address the issue. At the time, Google declined to elaborate on which activists had been targeted or where the attacks had been coming from.
Last January Google said it had been the victim of highly sophisticated attacks originating from China. At first the firm thought its intellectual property was the target. The company’s investigations found at least 20 other internet , financial, technology, media and chemical companies had been similarly targeted. Google said it had uncovered evidence that the primary goal of the attacks was the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
The search firm is not commenting further on this latest attack, but technology experts said it seemed to show an increasingly high degree of sophistication. “In the wake of what is happening in the Middle East I don’t think China wants to be seen making heavy-handed attacks on the internet, that would draw too much attention,” said one internet executive who wished to remain anonymous. He said making it look like a fault in Google’s system was extremely difficult to do and the fact that these attacks appear to come and go makes the attack look “semi-industrial and very, very sophisticated.”
According to the Wikileaks cables, China has indeed ‘successfully hacked the US and other governments as well as private enterprises’ and has been putting pressure on Google to comply with its demands for censorship:
As well as removing references to the Dalai Lama and to 1989′s Tiananmen Square massacre, Google was asked to censor images of government facilities displayed on the Google Earth mapping service.
Based on Google’s concerns and the Wikileaks cables, the Chinese government seems to have embarked on something more than censorship. China, you might say, is hacking its way into the workings of software systems, compromising their workings, and interfering with the Internet’s functioning in ways that are repressive and more than troubling.
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