Google test offers peek at China net filters

Type "Falun Gong" in Chinese into Google's search engine from Beijing, and the Web browser suddenly becomes unresponsive for about a minute. Make the same search from Hong Kong, and you'll get plenty of links to the spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government.

Internet users in mainland China and Hong Kong now share the same Google search site, but their experiences continue to widely differ, particularly on topics deemed sensitive by China's Communist leaders. The difference is that the government, rather than Google, is now doing the censoring.



The findings in a recent Associated Press test offer insights into the sophistication with which China uses its complex "Great Firewall" to filter its citizens' online view of the world.



Recent searches for taboo topics from Beijing generally produced "page cannot be displayed" errors. The user's browser stops working for about a minute, longer if one tries to access forbidden sites in quick succession. In other words, it's not just the links to those sites that don't work; the results don't come back at all.



Yet the filters aren't exact, and English-language sites have a greater chance of slipping through, partly because the government is more concerned about the vast majority of citizens who speak only Chinese. And even as the Great Firewall blocks Twitter and sensitive blog postings, excerpts do show up on Google's search results page.



The findings illustrate how China's vast government-run network of Web filters works. When a user enters a sensitive term in a search, it triggers a brief blockage that affects subsequent searches - even those on innocuous topics - by that user or anyone else at the same numeric Internet address. That can be one computer or an entire cybercafe.



Chinese-language searches for missing Chinese activist lawyer Gao Zhisheng, jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Chinese President Hu Jintao and "June 4 incident" - known elsewhere as the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown - all led to the Web browser in Beijing hanging for a minute or longer.



Before Google killed its mainland search service Monday and redirected "Google.cn" traffic to its existing Hong Kong-based site, Google returned censored results with a note explaining that some items had been removed. Google needed to comply with Chinese laws, but it wanted users to know about the omissions in hopes they would pressure their government to lift restraints.



But Google announced 12 January that it was no longer willing to censor those results after it discovered it was the target of hacking attacks originating from China. Unable to reach agreement with the ruling party on running an uncensored search service, Google decided to send mainland users to Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that is semiautonomous because of its past as a British colony.



Some Google searches produce the same results whether from Beijing or Hong Kong. Among them: "Michael Jackson" and "March 14 incident," which refers to the 2008 anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. "Taiwan" also produced no difference in search results, despite tensions with a region that China considers its own.



In other cases, results appear the same, but the text ads alongside them differ. A recent search for "iPhone" in Hong Kong produced two sponsored links, for the Apple store in Hong Kong and for Vodafone, while the one in Beijing led to the mainland version of Apple's home page. In most cases, though, the mainland version of the search produced more ads than in Hong Kong.



Google routinely uses a computer's numeric Internet address to determine the visitor's location and adjust search results and ads accordingly. Visiting the US-focused Google.com site from Geneva, for instance, often takes you automatically to the Swiss version of the site at Google.ch. Even within the United States, sites for some local businesses may show up higher or lower in the results depending on where you are.



Thus, despite Google's decision to give mainland users the Hong Kong site, at Google.com.hk, visitors from Beijing still see differences having nothing to do with China's filters.



With the change, Hong Kong's site began displaying search results in the simplified Chinese characters that are used in mainland China, but Hong Kong visitors still get a page in the traditional Chinese script, with links to versions for English or simplified Chinese.



Beijing visitors get the simplified version first, and their Hong Kong page looks much like the old Google.cn, with colorful, animated icons offering quick links to video, shopping and other popular features.



The Google-owned online video leader YouTube is typically blocked on the mainland. In Beijing, searches on a separate Google video service are directed to a Google.cn site where the company is still censoring results. Video, music and maps are among the features that Google continues to operate in China. In Hong Kong, however, video searches go to the Hong Kong site, where results are not censored.



Meanwhile, Hong Kong users can reach a China-only music service, but unless you're on the mainland, you get this advisory when you try to listen to a song: "Music streaming/download services are not available in your region."



Despite the pervasive reach of the Great Firewall, mainland Chinese can use Google's Hong Kong site for a glimpse of material that is usually blocked.



Consider a search for "Obama." One recent search from Beijing produced a page leading with news stories about the U.S. president, but the results page also included recent posts by people on Twitter, a social-messaging service that is blocked in China.



In a Chinese-language search for "Tibet," Google includes excerpts from such blogs as Invisible Tibet, which is written by the well-known Tibetan poet and activist Woeser and is usually blocked in China.



Not surprisingly, attempts to access the blog from the search page failed. By comparison, a search for Woeser's blog on the Chinese search site Baidu.com produced one line: "The search results could involve content that fails to comply with the relevant laws, regulation and policies, and are not displayed."



Meanwhile, a search for "Tibet" in English shows links to Free Tibet, the International Campaign for Tibet and other activist sites.



The Great Firewall isn't an exact science, but it's meant to keep most of the sensitive content from most of the citizens most of the time.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

    £24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

    Service Delivery Manager (Product Manager, Test and Deployment)

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager (Product Ma...

    Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam