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Is China's "Great Firewall" a Fraud?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the leaky-filter dept.

Censorship 185

An anonymous reader notes an article up on ScienceBlogs that calls into question the efficacy of the touted "Great Firewall of China" — a program by the government of the People's Republic of China to block users from reaching content it finds objectionable. Researchers at UC Davis and the University of New Mexico have performed experiments on the Great Firewall, sending test content to destinations inside China and observing what gets through. They conclude that the Great Firewall is more of a "panopticon" that encourages self-censorship through the perception that users may be being watched, rather than a true firewall.

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Haha had us all fooled! (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568005)

That Chinese government! They like to kid. Remember Tiananmen Square? What a hoot!

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568235)

Why is this modded troll?

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (4, Insightful)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568423)

Why is this modded troll?
Not that I can read the moderator's mind, but my guess is that he believes that the poster is making light of tragedy.

Some people don't understand that humor and laughter is also a way of crying together and sharing the pain of tragedy. I automatically read the comment that way, but very likely the moderator didn't. This kind of humor is especially widespread under repressive regimes, where you can't talk explicitly about the issues. In such countries people tend to comment on things in ways that humorless secret police agents will meet with a disapproving and slightly bewildered frown, rather than a one-way ticket to the Gulag.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1)

tezbobobo (879983) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568563)

So too is anyone who calls themselves a grammar-'Nazi'. Probably in a far worse way.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1, Offtopic)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568693)

Hust to be pedantic, not many people call themselves grammar nazis. It's usually a label someone else gives them. I get your point though.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569453)

to be pedantic, not many people call themselves grammar nazis.

Heinrich Himmler did. He once had a dude shot when the guy used an apostrophe where he wasn't supposed to. And he had an entire detachment of the S.S. tasked with tracking down misused umlauts.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1, Funny)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569769)

Weren't the SS originally called the ß BTW ?

*ducks*

why is it modded Funny? (1)

weighn (578357) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568903)

That Chinese government! They like to kid.
Why is this modded troll?
sounds like an insight to me, the researchers in TFA could well have been spun into a little PRC propaganda exercise.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (4, Interesting)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568649)

Interesting comparison: China says they are watching the citizens, and the citizens self-censor.

In the US, we preach freedom, and people feel they aren't being watched, and probably let their guard down. Yet our very act of patriotism, "The Patriot Act", provides unprecedented watching.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (3, Funny)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568997)

The only other difference is that China puts dissidents to death.
Here, we give them news and comedy shows.
Oh, the irony.

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (0, Troll)

SL Baur (19540) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569163)

Speaking as someone who has done international travel in the last week, I absolutely agree. And worse (or better as your case may be) it seems much freer outside of the US than in.

So long as a small country like the US continues to confuse me with someone who lives (or used to live, they won't tell me but they ask me every time through) in Oakland, I can believe that a large country like China cannot possibly control all their citizens.

I believe in open borders, but only to those who pay their own way and pay more taxes than benefits they receive. I wish the US had the same standards as Japan. My wife would be with me now, instead of in a long, long immigration queue ...

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569477)

"it seems much freer outside of the US than in." - That's because it is? Since 9/11 your government is pretty much the most invasive and controlling in the 'free' world.

"So long as a small country like the US" - wha? Was that Sarcasm? Ever heard of Luxembourg? Belgium? The US is not 'small'.. maybe has a low population density compared to China, but so does everywhere else.

And as for the last part.. it doesn't really make sense, because you're talking about giving insane benefits to those who 'pay more taxes than benefits they recieve', so in the end they will end up with way more benefits?

Sorry for being so argumentative but seeing someone call America a 'small country' just pisses me off for some reason.. seems that Americans just have no concept of how things are outside the US..

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (1)

TempeTerra (83076) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569981)

Not to nitpick, but there's no "The Patriot Act". What everyone means by it is the USAPATRIOT Act [wikipedia.org] , USAPATRIOT being the initialism of the cumbersome name deliberately chosen to spell USAPATRIOT. There's nothing patriotic about it, and the naming scam insults the intelligence of the nation with the implicit assumption that people will think "but it's called the Patriot act! How could it be wrong?"

Re:Haha had us all fooled! (3, Interesting)

revengebomber (1080189) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569535)

Remember Tiananmen Square?
Yes. [google.com]
No. [google.cn]

It's also entirely possible... (3, Interesting)

mdenham (747985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568011)

...that the "Great Firewall" is only filtering packets that are outbound from China.

Not necessarily likely, mind you, but it's possible.

Re:It's also entirely possible... (3, Informative)

squidinkcalligraphy (558677) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568135)

Actually a true filter would be way too costly and slow to work on this scale. Rather than blocking the actual connections, when a user tries to connect to a 'banned' website (or banned words/phrases are detected), the firewall sends a reset packet to both sides of the TCP connection, which effectively closes the channel. Unless of course both client and server know to ignore reset packets.

Re:It's also entirely possible... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568171)

Hi,I have been in China last fall. I was not able to access: wikipedia.*, italian online newspapers, beppegrillo.it blog and some other sites.... but I could use a vpn connection to redirect all ip traffic and verify that these sites were up and running. Even the Great Firewall was up and running. And it works quite well!

Re:It's also entirely possible... (1)

dark_knight_ita (995074) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568267)

...that the "Great Firewall" is only filtering packets that are outbound from China.
It wouldn't be much effective, then, as the majority of the content that the Chinese government wants to ban is hosted on servers located outside China.

Re:It's also entirely possible... (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568279)

How will you request data from those servers then if you can't send any packets to them?

Re:It's also entirely possible... (1)

dark_knight_ita (995074) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568311)

Because this "firewall" is about filtering words, not IP addresses.

Re:It's also entirely possible... (1)

mdenham (747985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568447)

Because this "firewall" is about filtering words, not IP addresses.
No, it seems to be about blacklisting sites, hence why I had the thought way back there.

Re:It's also entirely possible... (1)

dark_knight_ita (995074) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568523)

No, it seems to be about blacklisting sites, hence why I had the thought way back there.
Ok, now I see your point, and you might be right. I was just commenting this extract of the article:

By analogy, Chinese Internet censorship based on keyword filtering is the equivalent of the latter -- and indeed, the keyword "massacre" (in Chinese) is on the blacklist. Because it filters ideas rather than specific Web sites, keyword filtering stops people from using proxy servers or "mirror" Web sites to evade censorship. But because it is not completely effective all the time, it probably acts partly by encouraging self-censorship, Barr said. When users within China see that certain words, ideas and concepts are blocked most of the time, they might assume that they should avoid those topics.
I don't know if this is real or not (we should see what the researchers actually did to perform their tests), but, if proven true, would mean that a content filter is in place, rather than a mere IP blocker.

Equivalent (1)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568013)

Nothing for you to see here. Please move along. Move citizen. You are being watched. Put up enough info that many things are prohibited and make the punishments public, and then make everyone think they are being watched. People will police themselves out of fear. It's effective and much cheaper than a true blocking system. And if you have at least some system to catch people, it becomes more effective. So the net effect is probably about the same.

Re:Equivalent (5, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568401)

I was in Beijing less than a week ago, and while I was there I had tea with some Chinese scientists. I was surprised to learn (I had to be told, since I know about three words in Mandarin) that they were actually having an argument about, well, politics. I guess I'd just sort of assumed that talking about politics in China was like talking about your sex life in front of your parents, something you just didn't do. I then had an interesting discussion with a senior scientist there; she argued that Chinese socialism was the worst system of all because of all the abuses and corruption, mentioning numerous instances where Chinese scientists and officials would bill the government for personal expenses, meals, family vacations, and soforth.

I can't claim that this has given me any profound insight into how the system affects the Chinese. What I did find was striking was this- I wrote an email about this experience to a friend. And afterwards, suddenly I started to worry. Not about myself, but about the Chinese woman I'd had a discussion with. I concluded it probably wasn't a problem, since all I did was mention that we "discussed socialism" which could mean just about anything. But knowing that my communications could be watched, and that the government could potentially harm someone because of what I said... well, our conversation was one of the most interesting experiences I had while I was there, but I didn't bother to mention it in any of my other emails to friends. So for me, that was the really scary thing, not the knowledge that the government could harm me, but that it could harm the people around me if I wasn't careful about what I said. So certainly, the system seemed to be having the desired effect with me, and I'm a westerner used to free (as in consequence-free) expression, and I was just there for a week.

What I have to wonder is, what's going to happen at the Olympics? Beijing is going to be flooded with foreigners. And unlike the Tienanmen square uprising, there will be cameras- digital cameras, video cameras, cell phone cameras, news cameras- everywhere, and I don't see how the Chinese government can possibly control the flow of information. All it's going to take is a few media-savvy demonstrators who want to make a scene, and either the government will have to tolerate them (which will be bad for them) or crack down (and have everyone witness it, which will be worse). I don't know... I think they may have gotten more than they bargained with in getting the international attention of the Olympics.

They'll be on their best behavior (1)

Myria (562655) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568647)

The Chinese government will behave themselves during the Olympics. Attempts to control these kinds of actions by foreigners would result in heat from the rest of the world. They want positive PR, plain and simple. An outward appearance of freedom is more important than actual freedom.

They'll probably crack down once the Olympics are over.

Re:Equivalent (4, Insightful)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568977)

Nothing new here. Soviet block was the same.
  • Politics were the most popular topic for a drunken conversation around the table in the ex-Soviet Union.
  • Political jokes constituted roughly 60-70% of all humour floating around. We had jokes about the fact that Brezhnev jokes cannot exist because they violate the fundamental universal constraint on the speed of light by travelling from one end of Moscow to another instantaneously.
  • The situation in other ex-Warsaw block countries like Bulgaria was not any different. It went even further. Everyone was grumbling, taking the piss of the system, moaning complaining, telling political jokes. Nobody was even considering rebelling or doing something proactive against the government.
  • Add to that that a lot of the literature and "formally allowed" humour like stand up comedians at the time had a lot of politics and very serious political satire inside.
    • For example on the subject of what you are mentioning - scientists taking the piss of the system - just read "Monday starts on Saturday". That is present in plenty of books from that period. "Monday starts on Saturday" and "Snail on a Slope" by the Strugatcki brothers come to mind as a perfect example.
    • Similarly people like Okudzhava, Zhvanecki, etc wrote all kinds of stuff that was taking the piss of the system and that was sang by people, shown in theatres and some of that even shown on TV.
What the "socialists" do not tolerate is open rebellion. That they squash straight away. They let the people grumble and vent steam (within limits) because if they clamp on that the chances for open rebellion increase dramatically. They do not have the resources to clamp on all of that either.

Further to this, organising something like Tian-an-Men Square or the student strikes nowdays requires money and is usually supported by foreign resource. Been there, seen that in the ex-Soviet block. Never got my hands dirty with it though (probably should have). If China does a good job of following all suitcases with money flowing into the country prior to the Olimpics they will not need to worry about any troubles.

Re:Equivalent (3, Interesting)

fliptout (9217) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569565)

Did you hear clicking noises on your phone while in China, too? :D

Regarding the Chinese system of business relationships, it is called guanxi. I term it a euphemism for corruption. But hey, Chinese culture is 5000 years old, or so they claim, and things do not change swiftly there.

Regarding discretion of speech, some of my chinese friends were not afraid to says "fuck the communist party" in front of other chinese. It is not a big deal anymore. Just don't say something dumb on live tv or make yourself a big target.

The government will become interested if you try to foment an insurrection and challenge their power. Small scale chit chat probably does not register a blip on their radar these days. Now that we are in the 21st century, I assume that all communication is monitored, no matter where you are. Email is sent in plain text, IM in plain text as well, etc etc.

As to the Beijing olympics... I think the government's main problem at the moment is smog. A clear blue sky is a rarity there these days, and this does not create the best impression of the city. I *loved* living in Beijing, but the air quality is terrible.

Hope you enjoyed Beijing! :)

Re:Equivalent (1)

Dak RIT (556128) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569819)

guanxi (/) isn't a system of business relationships or something like that, it literally just means relationship, and can mean anything from a business relation to a personal one.

Re:Equivalent (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568667)

depends on how aware the chinese are of the system, somehow i doubt too many understand the specifics how things work(not everyone is a geek), for them the end result is just that some sites don't work. probably not causing that much fear.

any goverment with big enough resources may watch any chosen individuals, the smaller the country the smaller the resources but then again the smaller group to watch. you don't really need high tech for this, it's quite effective if you just recruit 1/4 of the people to watch the rest(eastern germany). in this sense china is much more "free" than some countries, simply because there's so many people that such a friend watching system isn't that feasible(neighbour watching sure.. but friend watching. that's evil).

totally ineffective (5, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568015)

It's completely ineffective and a waste of resources. All the Mongolian internet users just look for a weak point and then pour through in hordes.

Re:totally ineffective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568499)

Southpark:

Hey. Hey hey! [rushes over to the gap the Mongolians are creating] Hey, what the hell you doing?! [the Mongolian leader says a few words] Mongorians? What the hell Mongorians doing here? [the Mongolians keep attacking the wall] Ey, fuck you, Mongorians! Tryin' break down my wall! [starts throwing bricks at the Mongolians] Get out of here, fuckin' Mongorians! [the Mongolians turn and ride away] God-damnit, how come every time us Chinese put up a wall, stupid Mongorians have to come and knock it down?

Re:totally ineffective (1)

Stochastism (1040102) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568553)

Are there analogies with the real Great Wall? They are both ineffective for someone that's determined to defeat them (just go around!); they are both more about show; and they are both as much about controlling what leaves as what comes in?

The question is, will we be able to test the great firewall from space?

Not surprising. (4, Insightful)

DaedalusHKX (660194) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568019)

I find that "panopticon" is something unfamiliar to many western readers. This concept, however was evident in many places where totalitarian authoritarian states were to be found. This includes the North American continent which has at least 3 known authoritarian states.

However, the Great Firewall is no surprise, as it is more likely civilian self censorship and self policing that results in most "apprehensions" of dissenters the Chinese government makes yearly. Many of these people are not caught by the "technologies" or police departments, but instead are turned in by "good citizens" (otherwise known as family members and friends).

Again this comes as no surprise to me.

comon (3, Insightful)

frakir (760204) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568165)

I find that "panopticon" is something unfamiliar to many western readers.
Western readers just call "panopticon" in politicaly correct way.
They call it 'political correctness'.

Re:comon (0, Offtopic)

LouisZepher (643097) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568259)

Funny you should mention that word. After having viewed a marathon of season 3 the other day (and a couple drinks), seeing "Panopticon" made me visualize the Great (physical) Wall rising up and turning into a giant robot with the phrase "The Transformers will return after these messages..."

Re:comon (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568469)

Western readers just call "panopticon" in politicaly correct way.
They call it 'political correctness'.
Depends on the country. In the US there are two words, "un-American" and "unpatriotic".

Re:comon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568945)

Western readers just call "panopticon" in politicaly correct way.
They call it 'political correctness'


You are a grade 1 fuckwit.

A panopticon is a state of surveilance where you can't be sure
whether or not you are being observed -- so you act as if you are
under constant surveilance.

Political corrictness is a right-wing theory that the "liberal communists"
have take over the world and are denying me the right to say "nigger" and
"bitch".

And the similarities between these are?

Re:comon (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569641)

With the former, the uncertainty is a government tool. With the latter, the only way to be politically correct is to not be politically correct. That's worse than political correctness. That's actual correctness.

Re:Not surprising. (2, Informative)

Belacgod (1103921) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568437)

Which is interesting, as it was invented by Jeremy Bentham as part of a prison reform scheme. (I may be wrong about him having originated the term, but he did use it as such).

Re:Not surprising. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568657)

You've used ambiguity to very powerful effect in this comment. Would you mind clarifying what the 3 known authoritarian states are?

Re:Not surprising. (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568863)

What ambiguity? The USA, Canada and Mexico are the only three states on the north american continent.

-jcr

Re:Not surprising. (3, Informative)

Capsaicin (412918) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568797)

I find that "panopticon" is something unfamiliar to many western readers. This concept, however was evident in many places where totalitarian authoritarian states were to be found.

That's kind of odd really given that the concept was invented and advocated by that great champion of individual liberty Jeremy Bentham, and given that the concept has been influential in western prison design. I guess it just goes to show that not enough people read Foucault ;).

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Panopticon [wikipedia.org] was a prison design in which prisoners could at any time be under surveillance, without any way of telling whether they in fact were.

Case in point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568033)

Why must you remain anonymous, dear submitter? Are they watching you? Are you watching us? I ain't taking my chances! [clicks 'Post Anonymously']

Telescreen (1)

ScaryMonkey (886119) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568057)

It's like that telescreen in the living room, the point isn't that you are being watched all the time, but that you could be being watched at any time.

Dirty secret (2, Funny)

appleLaserWriter (91994) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568079)

What they don't want you to know is that it is painted with lead paint!

How could they monitor everyone? (5, Insightful)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568081)

Just imagine the effort it would take to continually watch even a small percentage of the population at any given time. Not to mention, effective surveillance would require people to do the watching (not just machines) and word would get out about it, no matter how oppressive the regime.

I would compare this with the carpool lanes on USA highways.They are one of the few instances that I could think of that has signs posted every few hundred feet to warn would-be violators about the dire consequences. It basically boils down to the fact that it is impossible to effectively police the carpool lane vehicle occupant policy (due to the fact that many vehicles have tinted windows and are moving at a high rate of speed, thereby making it difficult to see inside the vehicle), so they have to try and scare people instead.

Re:How could they monitor everyone? (1)

mdenham (747985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568107)

It basically boils down to the fact that it is impossible to effectively police the carpool lane vehicle occupant policy (due to the fact that many vehicles have tinted windows and are moving at a high rate of speed, thereby making it difficult to see inside the vehicle), so they have to try and scare people instead.
And yet, that doesn't stop people from driving down the road with an inflatable doll in the passenger seat...

Re:How could they monitor everyone? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568343)

I would compare this with the carpool lanes on USA highways.They are one of the few instances that I could think of that has signs posted every few hundred feet to warn would-be violators about the dire consequences. It basically boils down to the fact that it is impossible to effectively police the carpool lane vehicle occupant policy (due to the fact that many vehicles have tinted windows and are moving at a high rate of speed, thereby making it difficult to see inside the vehicle), so they have to try and scare people instead.
Which makes it no different from any other law, it's not really scaring them as much as making them aware of the consequences. Sure it's half as likely to catch someone but if the penalties are twice as much then logically it comes out the same.

Re:How could they monitor everyone? (1)

mdenham (747985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568453)

Sure it's half as likely to catch someone but if the penalties are twice as much then logically it comes out the same.
I want to see them apply this logic to the death penalty.

"Yeah, we know there's three other people who we didn't catch... we're gonna kill you four times to make up for it."

Re:How could they monitor everyone? (1)

bentcd (690786) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569119)

I want to see them apply this logic to the death penalty.
"Yeah, we know there's three other people who we didn't catch... we're gonna kill you four times to make up for it."
This is not unheard of historically. One might torture someone to death, then hang them, then quarter them for good measure. Now, this was probably more of a public relations stunt than it was an attempt to actually kill them multiple times but still.

Re:How could they monitor everyone? (2, Interesting)

darkfire5252 (760516) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569049)

Just imagine the effort it would take to continually watch even a small percentage of the population at any given time. Not to mention, effective surveillance would require people to do the watching (not just machines) and word would get out about it, no matter how oppressive the regime.


Right. The only way a state or other entity could possibly afford to take on a project as ambitious as 'watch everyone everywhere at all times' would be to find some way to get massive amounts of funding and support. It would also require a large amount of research into the fields of pattern recognition (neural nets for facial and behavioral recognition). You'd almost have to find a large amount of very wealthy people and convince them that it would be in their best interests to finance the project for you.

Thank god that China Security and Surveillance Technology and China Public Security Technology, two companies that have the goal of doing just that are now listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYTimes Linky [nytimes.com] ). During the period from April 2006 to April 2007, $164.2 million dollars has been invested in the China Security and Surveillance Technology company by US investment groups.

From the article:

Hedge fund money from the United States has paid for the development of not just better video cameras, but face-recognition software and even newer behavior-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police. [...] his company's software made it possible for security cameras to count the number of people in crosswalks and alert the police if a crowd forms at an unusual hour, a possible sign of an unsanctioned protest.

China Security and Surveillance is involved in some of the most controversial areas of public security. [...] one of the company's growth areas involved surveillance systems for Internet cafes; the government is trying to clamp down on users of the cafes in order to discourage pornography and prostitution.

In Shenzhen, white poles resembling street lights now line the roads every block or two, ready to be fitted with cameras. In a nondescript building linked to nearby street cameras, a desktop computer displayed streaming video images from outside and drew a green square around each face to check it against a "blacklist."

But hey, maybe, after they've done all the hard work of researching and field testing the equipment, us Westerners can buy a few of the systems off of them cheap. After technology like this has been developed and tested, what up-with-the-times state wouldn't want a few of these lying around for 'social stability.'

I, for one, welcome our new bought-and-paid-for overlords.

How Foucauldlian... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568087)

In communist China, YOU watch YOU!

Science? (1)

RedWizzard (192002) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568121)

This is in the science section. Why?

Re:Science? (1)

Karl0Erik (1138443) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568193)

It's kdawson. Obviously, he was too busy approving stories to properly categorize them. I mean, look at the front page.

Re:Science? (1)

ameoba (173803) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568559)

I think it has something to do with the phrase "Researchers at UC Davis and the University of New Mexico have performed experiments on the Great Firewall" and the mathematical modeling they used to evaluate the results.

I live in China ... (5, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568169)

I live in China. I have always been amused reading about the "Great Firewall of China" in the Western media. It really isn't that big of a deal. Very little is blocked, other than porn. Websites advocating Tibetan/Mongolian*/Xinjiang separatism, or Taiwanese independence in Chinese are blocked, but similar sites in English rarely are. The BBC is blocked, not sure why. That is about it.

Proxy lists are widely available. You can ask for one in almost any Internet cafe. So the Firewall is easy to bypass. 99.9% of people using the proxies are looking at porn.

The "Great Firewall" is actually fairly popular in China, because it means people can let their kids browse without worrying about them seeing erect penises.

* Yes, I know that Mongolia is already an independent country. But most Mongolians don't live there. 80% of them live in China.

Re:I live in China ... (2, Funny)

i_b_don (1049110) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568285)

> I live in China. I have always been amused reading about the "Great
> Firewall of China" in the Western media. It really isn't that big
> of a deal. Very little is blocked, other than porn. (!!!)

-and you call this "not a big deal"??? Damn man, you're missing out!

d

Wikipedia is blocked, other media is blocked (4, Insightful)

Goonie (8651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568449)

My home newspaper and the Wikipedia are also blocked.

And, surprisingly enough, the vast majority of Chinese people can't read English. So the existence of English-language media discussing controversial topics is largely irrelevant to all but a relatively small elite.

Re:Wikipedia is blocked, other media is blocked (1)

2Bits (167227) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568729)

Tor and Privoxy would do the trick. BBC and Wikipedia can be accessed that way. Just that sometimes it is a little bit slow to get connected to a tor node.

Sure... (1)

Goonie (8651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568741)

It's not that difficult to get around, but you're probably committing a crime to do so.

Hence, everyone in China who uses the internet is a criminal...

Re:Sure... (1)

2Bits (167227) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568923)

Well, how do you define this as a crime? There is no legislation saying that the government is setting up a firewall or filtering system, and that no one should get around this, otherwise you'd be a criminal. No law is broken here. Sure, this does not mean they can't round you up and "evaporate" you (in 1984 terminology).

Wikipedia? (2, Informative)

fliptout (9217) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569501)

It was not blocked when I was in Shanghai three weeks ago..
Though Wikipedia was blocked for most of my year in china from August 2005 to August 2006. So annoying...

Re:Wikipedia? (2, Informative)

jamar0303 (896820) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569709)

Yep- Wikipedia was unblocked earlier. It just got blocked again.

I also live in China (4, Informative)

RobertinXinyang (1001181) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568955)

A tremendous amount of sites are blocked. Many of them are barely political at all. I can not even get to my own blog. I can post but not view. Of course, there is wikipedia; but then, there is also VOA. It is incredible, the students are tested on a standardized test using material from VOA; however, they can not go to the site. To download the mp3s of the VOA broadcasts there are back door ways of doing it; but, it is just plain stupid. It is part of the TEM4 exam.

I am not going to bother listing the NON-PORN sites that I can not access. Rest assured that I hit one of these sites almost daily. Most Chinese are not aware of the firewall, this is true, they just think that this is the way the Internet works.

Re:I live in China ... (3, Informative)

RazzleDazzle (442937) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569767)

They also appear to be blocking protocols other than HTTP. I was troubleshooting SMTP connection problems with a company in China. During the transmission of the body of email from an SMTP server in China to an SMTP server in the US we were getting RSTs, this was completely reproducible. The company in China had a private link to a carrier outside of China and when they routed their outbound SMTP traffic across this link they did not have any problems delivering the mail. Switched back to their regular chinese connection and they were getting RSTs again. We never spent the time trying to narrow it down to specific content within the message body, but that might have been interesting to see what it was as the content seemed to be rather innocuous.

Reminders of Panopticon (1)

DonZorro (452879) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568175)

I saw a recent documentary about China's Internet Cafes...

an animated policeman turns up on the screens once in a while to remind people that they are being watched.

Re:Reminders of Panopticon (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568897)

an animated policeman turns up on the screens once in a while to remind people that they are being watched.
Just like in Poland in 1981 when there was warlike state. When you tried to phone somewhere instead of normal signal you heard "This call is controlled. This call...".

oo i got a metaphor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568187)

So it's more like the imaginary "weighted ball" that circus elephants -think- is around their leg, but really isn't.

There, a witty metaphor -- INSIGHTFUL POINTS NOW PLEASE.

It's there (2, Informative)

Cygnus78 (628037) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568209)

I have been to china several times and I can't recall having seen a case of "content filtering", but then again I have not looked for it. However sites are blocked, last time I could not reach bbc, flickr or wikipedia as a few examples.

Re:It's there (3, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568289)

last time I could not reach bbc, flickr or wikipedia as a few examples.

Wikipedia is no longer blocked, but some specific pages (Tibet, Fulan Gong) are. I just tried accessing Flickr, and had no problem. The BBC is still blocked.

Re:It's there (2, Informative)

Cygnus78 (628037) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568517)

Wikipedia is no longer blocked, but some specific pages (Tibet, Fulan Gong) are. I just tried accessing Flickr, and had no problem. The BBC is still blocked.

Actually it seemed to be different in different places. BBC and Flickr was blocked everywhere I tried but Wikipedia was blocked only at the office but not in my apartment.

Re:It's there (1)

Echnin (607099) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569875)

Wikipedia was blocked again on August 29. I have to use a proxy to reach it now.

Re:It's there (1)

deftcoder (1090261) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568295)

Tried searching Google for "Tiananmen Square"?

leave britney alone!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568231)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRSt4jfRTH4 [youtube.com]

there... the first interesting thing on slashdot since 2001

Soft Firewall + Hard Repercusions = Control (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568275)

These lines are from the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party [ninecommentaries.com]

The CCP uses both soft and hard methods concurrently. Sometimes they would be relaxed in some instances while strict in others, or they would be relaxed on the outside while stiff in their internal affairs. In a relaxed atmosphere, the CCP encouraged the expression of different opinions, but, as if luring the snake out of its hole, those who did speak up would only be persecuted in the following period of strict control.

The West is familiar with a lighter form of the same technique, Dilbert calls it Management Lie #2: I have an open door policy [dakine.net]

Reminds me something... (1)

dark_knight_ita (995074) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568357)

I see that nobody has mentioned FUD, yet.

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568389)

Every employee in the Chinese government could spend 24/7 looking for "objectionable material" on the web and they're job would never be done. Even if keywords and ect. were blocked there would be ways around. Aren't there over 100 million websites up now, thousands more every day? It's an impossible task, and so and induced state of paranoia at the thought of punishment is a far easier solution. After all if China had to ask Yahoo who some bloggers were, how effective could their much touted surveillance be?

I Too Live IN China! -- ICP + Proxy (1)

fotoflo (1018618) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568409)

Hear me roar. no the firewall isnt much of a big deal. its an annoyance though. certain sites are firewalled - and sites get added or subtracted from the blacklist once in a while. wikipedia just came back on a few months ago, for example, after bieng offline for a few years. all that means is that if you wanted to read a wiki article you had to go through a proxy or use some kind of cashe/mirror (google had wikipedia cashed pretty well towards the end of its time on the blacklist) More important for some users - like those intending to build a website - is that if you want to put a site on the backbone (or at any reliable hosting service) in china, you need an ICP (internet content provider licance). if you dont have one, no one will host you, and if you do get a provider, your site will continue to work until it gets popular and then one day it will be removed from the DNS servers here... another annoyance is certain popular blogging sites go off line (i used to have a livejournal at fotoflo.livejournal.com, but no one here can see it anymore so it has become irrellevant.) ok, thats my three cents fotoflo

Having Just Been in Beijing... (3, Informative)

wdr1 (31310) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568415)

... I can definitely tell you there is a firewall. Short of using a proxy (thank you ssh -D), no machine can access Wikipedia, Blogger, etc.

-Bill

Conspiracy Theory (2, Insightful)

Belacgod (1103921) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568463)

Lots of commenters here have said "I live in China, and all you need is a proxy to get around this."

What if the CCP has purposely built their firewall to be circumventable with just a little hacking? A few years of this and much of the population has an interest and a little skill in computer tricks, increasing the pool of computer talent in the country for both peaceful development and recruitment for nasty hacker armies? They could be engaging in social engineering to get a leg up in computer warfare.

In WWII, one huge advantage the USA had was that every kid had grown up tinkering with old cars, so every tank crew had an amateur mechanic, without having to specifically assign and train them. This could produce a similar effect for the Chinese.

Re:Conspiracy Theory (1)

d12v10 (1046686) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568509)

Yeah... I don't think being able to use [insert search engine here] to look for web proxies, being able to paste it in a little box in the Options, check a box, and then click Ok is going to create a hacker army.

Re:Conspiracy Theory (1)

Belacgod (1103921) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568583)

It piques your interest. Someone who does that (especially if they're on a computer with pirated Windows) is more likely to become interested in hacking than someone who just turns on their factory-standard computer, clicks on IE, and goes wherever they want.

Through being interested in torrents, I've learned all kinds of stuff about how computers work, and in the end was convinced to install Linux. I wouldn't say going to a torrent client website and downloading it taught me frack-all about computers, but the one led to the other.

This doesn't seem plausible (1)

jesterzog (189797) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569099)

What if the CCP has purposely built their firewall to be circumventable with just a little hacking? A few years of this and much of the population has an interest and a little skill in computer tricks, increasing the pool of computer talent in the country for both peaceful development and recruitment for nasty hacker armies? They could be engaging in social engineering to get a leg up in computer warfare.

It doesn't sound very plausible to me. Just because someone uses a proxy doesn't mean they understand much about what they're doing, especially if they're just copying the instructions of someone else. (As an analogy, just because someone uses libdvdcss2 doesn't mean they have a clue what it's doing.) There are plenty of much more reliable ways the CCP could train people to be hackers.

Besides, why should a typical hacker feel any loyalty to help the government with skills they've learned as a result of the government trying to prevent them from getting what they want? It's like suggesting that people who hack around DRM technology would for some illogical reason feel motivated to patriotically use their discoveries to help the RIAA or MPAA to impose it on people elsewhere.

The chinse firewall works. (3, Informative)

STDK (1084535) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568471)

My experience from having lived here in a year is something like this:

It is actively censuring the most common adult *cough*Porn*cough* sites, many news sites, a lot of blogs are inaccessible etc. For about 1/5 of the links from /. I get 404 or something similar.

Sometimes when I get too annoyed about this unreasonable amount of blockage and then cross-check with TOR running I get about 99% functional pages.

It works in another way as well, the basic communication from China to abroad is VERY slow. Basically downloading anything, that be software, articles playing WOW in EU server and so on is excruciating, if at all possible. Downloading from Chinese sites I can max out my band width.

Bigger hotels in international cities such as Shanghai and Beijing seems to by-pass the firewall, so for many visitors they will never notice this. On a related note, the big hotels also have permission to show international TV such as CNN, BBC, HBO, where local people can get StarMovie, TCM and the Hallmark.

If the authorities are actively monitoring what we try to get hold of, I don't know, but the functional effects of 200.000 people actively banning the internet can not be denied.

For anyone who doubt the existence of the firewall, I suggest trying to live in China.

STDK

Re:The chinse firewall works. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20568851)

Only 200 people?

As an American living in China (5, Interesting)

LS (57954) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568661)

I can tell you that the things in the west are very exaggerated. You can pretty much speak about anything you want here in public, as long as it doesn't cover a few hot-button topics. You can take photos and video anywhere. Many services are paid for anonymously, so there is very little tracking. And the public is aware that internet filtering is more of manifestation of a policy than the policy itself. This is very common in Chinese culture - the outward manifestation and the implicit reality being two different things. This allows for quick flexibility, whether it be bending the rules by those that obey them, or changing the rules by those that create them. You are expected to know where this implicit line lies so that you do not step on toes, even though it will never be explicitly described. It has it's positives and negatives, for example the ability to quickly override bureaucracy, but also greasing the skids of nepotism.

Anyway, the firewall is like DRM. It 'protects' the general public from seeing things they shouldn't, but it isn't really effective against anyone who knows anything.

LS

Re:As an American living in China (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568983)

And exactly what are the hot-button topics? how did you find out what not to talk about? And what happens if you do?

Re:As an American living in China (3, Interesting)

fliptout (9217) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569639)

Taiwan is a biggie. China sees Taiwan as a rogue province, and mainland Chinese people are acutely aware that the USA does not, ahem, see eye to eye with Beijing on the matter. I've traveled to Taiwan and lived in the mainland, and I frankly got sick of talking about it. They have their propaganda, the Taiwanese have theirs, and we have ours(USA). The question of independence is a matter of national pride in China and Taiwan...Basically an extension China's most recent civil war.

Nothing happened to me when I talked about Taiwan. People were curious to know what I though. I expressed myself tactfully. Usually they stfu'd after I told them I had been to Taiwan, and people there use their own laws, currency, etc etc.

Now if I had gone on national tv in china (it is ridiculously easy these days for a westerner who speaks chinese) and called for Taiwan independence, well.. Maybe I would have been asked to leave... If I was Chinese, the result might be different- jail. :P

The researchers didn't get the topology (3, Interesting)

2Bits (167227) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568687)

If China's censorship system were a true firewall, most blocking would take place at the border with the rest of the Internet

Well duh, the so-called firewall is certainly not the same firewall that everyone means, and the researchers should know better. The system was not setup to totally block/filter everything at the gate. Certain groups of users must be allowed to access all contents, regardless of political censorship at the time, this includes: foreigners living in China, certain government departments and agencies (some police departments, NSA-equivalent, CIA-equivalent, ...). For example, if you go to places where there is high concentration of foreigners living in China, especially in certain building, you can access everything, there is no blocking/filtering at all. For example, when there is any well-known, well-publicized international conference held in China, the whole block where the conference is held can have non-filtered access, especially in hotels where foreign guests are concentrated.

The system is setup to allow contents in and out, but certain routes are blocked/filtered, while others are not. That's why you see some messages passed through several routers before being blocked. If the system was setup to block/filter everything at the gate, this would not be able to achieve.

Firewall for external connections only (4, Insightful)

fuzheado (733418) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568695)

As someone who's written a lot about the GFW, I always remind people -- the Great Firewall only affects connections going into and out of China. For domestic traffic there is no firewall or filtering at the router level. There is another system for censorship of content on servers inside China -- good old fashioned licensing to be a "content provider" and local regulation. If you're operating inside the sovereign borders of the PRC, then there are other conventional means of controlling content, like telling your ISP to shut you down or serving your company legal notice.

So it's a fallacy to talk about the Great Firewall as the most important part of the censorship system. The majority of folks in China are looking at entertainment content on servers inside China, and not trying to lookup the latest human rights abuses on foreign servers. Similarly, Americans are more interested in Britney Spears and the latest viral YouTube video than they are researching historical abuses of Native Americans.

I'm writing this from a coffee shop in Beijing using their free Wifi (which is quite common). With all these sensitive words in the post, hope it makes it through. (Though I'm kind of tempting fate by hitting the Preview button repeatedly)

Re:Firewall for external connections only (1)

makomk (752139) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569499)

On the contrary, I reckon it's more important then you think, since it prevents people using blogging sites and the like in other countries that are outside the licensing and registration scheme. (For example, as I understand it LiveJournal is quite popular in Russia partly because it's a US site and therefore not controlled by the local oligarchs.)

Re:Firewall for external connections only (1)

fliptout (9217) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569665)

The last part is a bit silly. When have you ever had a slashdot post censored in china? :P

Not very thoughtful is it? (0)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568733)

... sending test content to destinations inside China and observing what gets through ...

Surely there's only one outcome to that one.

Chinese Official: We noticed that you surfed to a site we find offensive and you managed to get through our great firewall.

Person at "destination": But honestly Mr Chinese official, I didn't surf to that site. Honest!

Chinese Official: ...

Make your own ending to that one.

A semantic proxy makes sense (1)

simong (32944) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568815)

The amount of man and computing horsepower required to maintain a list of banned sites at the packet level would be enormous even for China, so an automated filter with a bit of rolling analysis would be logical. It probably even runs on a distributed squid farm, probably based at the ISPs rather than at the national peers, with updates issued from a central authority. The appearance of the cartoon policemen was a bit of a giveaway as they could really only be written into a web page by a proxy, and there are far too many internet cafes to go to force the addition of a bit of code at the cafe's end.
In that respect it's not unlike the passive filter in front of my connection in this office. It checks for keywords in URLs as well as a list of banned sites, so anything with 'games' in is banned (I can't see articles posted to games.slashdot.org) and anything that involves 'wine' or 'beer' for some reason. That probably means, as has been mentioned, that it could be circumvented by a proxy or SSH tunnel to outside the .cn IP blocks.

Re:A semantic proxy makes sense (1)

Kwirl (877607) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569481)

Interesting statistic - if every chinese citizen spent one minute a day filtering content, that equals 2,515 manpower YEARS a day. Having 1,321,851,888 citizens and 1,185,000,000,000 dollars in cash reserves means they can probably afford to pay one or two people to do the job.

The Great FireWall might be real (1)

kubitus (927806) | more than 7 years ago | (#20568941)

I consider the control of ALL data-network access by the Chinese Governement a strategic issue. At the moment we do see the doors still wide open - as the test mentioned in the article shows. There were recently news on attempts of Cyber attacks on governements worldwide - coming - as is claimed - NOT from China. ;-) In my opinion the Chinese can shut the doors of their Great Firewall quite quick if they sense a Cyberattack targetting their own national network. This way they can prevent damage to their IT infrastructure - just in case. Censorship capability is most likely a welcome side-effect.

I Live in China Too: Great Firewall is REAL (2, Interesting)

Kojo (1903) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569437)

Now, it may not be an actual "Firewall" in the strictest sense but "The Great NetNanny of China" doesn't have the same ring. Like another poster said, it seems to work via reset packets. I'm not networking expert, I just know I get a lot of "connection reset" error messages.

The problem with the Firewall isn't what it blocks, but it's HOW it blocks...the sporadic, chaotic nature. I've been here for two years. When I arrived, LiveJournal (which I was using to keep in touch with friends) was fine. In October of last year, it got blocked. It remains so. Wikipedia has been blocked and unblocked SEVERAL times. As ShanghaiBill said, there are proxies, but THOSE sometimes get blocked. And it's NOT just porn or "politically objectionable" material that's being blocked. There was a "computer help" call-in radio show I used to listen to, but THEIR site was blocked. All manner of sites that have NO political, pornographic or otherwise "controversial" information are blocked for reasons unknown.

Another prime example is Google News. The HOME page often opens just fine, but if you try to click a link to follow one of the stories ON the home page? "Connection reset". I'll often get the same thing when trying to SEARCH from Google News. SOMETIMES it works, but you never really know WHEN it will and when it won't.

That's the big problem with it for me, the fact that you never know from one day to the next WHAT'S going to be accessible and what won't be.

I mention this not to complain, but to point out that any thoughts of "There IS no Great Firewall" are foolish. Like I said, it may not meet the strict technical definition of "firewall" because it doesn't do all of it's filtering 'at the edge', but the truth is MOST people not on Slashdot have NO idea how a firewall works. They just know it's supposed to BLOCK stuff. That's the case in China. The internet IS censored here MUCH more than it is in the US and many other countries I've heard from.

Re:I Live in China Too: Great Firewall is REAL (1)

jamar0303 (896820) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569787)

On the plus side, I have no trouble getting free music from eMule. Every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case it's the fact that I can't be sued while here in China downloading music (yeah, like China ever responds to any complaints from the US entertainment industry- pirated discs anyone?).

Re:I Live in China Too: Great Firewall is REAL (2, Funny)

anilg (961244) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569915)

THANKS for sharing ALL that info with US. We will be SURE to remember ALL of this the NEXT time we talk about THE great firewall of CHINA,

I met the fire wall (1)

bunytu (1086757) | more than 7 years ago | (#20569455)

I once send an email to a friend in China about the anti Japanese riots in 2005 in the peak of the riot and it never arrived.

The firewall may not be a wall between China and outside. It's a net covers whole China. Emails inside China is watched too.

I think the firewall itself is not same in different locations in China. I have access to cnn.com in Shanghai area but not in Beijing area for example. And proxies are constantly blocked when found out, which is also not symchronised over the whole China.
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