The Chinese government blocked Google websites today in what appears to be part of an escalating crack down on Chinese Internet users as the Communist Party goes through a leadership transition. Despite being the fifth most trafficked site in China, Google had previously considered leaving the Chinese market altogether in 2010 in response to Chinese filtering and a cyber attack on Gmail servers.
While Google’s Youtube has been blocked in China since 2009, today’s move affects all the core Google services, including Gmail, Play, Docs, Maps, and Analytics. The block on Google Analytics could have particularly complex repercussions for the web outside of China because it means Chinese users will not be tracked on the thousands of websites using the analytics tool.
Most reports indicate a relatively conservative economic and political block may be taking power in the current leadership transition, signaling trouble for foreign companies doing business in China–especially online, like Google. That conservative block already considers social media a thorn in its side, and likely won’t take as kindly to the type of criticism now being thrown at outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao over social media. The threat of this unbridled freedom of expression may be the driving force behind the regime’s decision to block Google and other services key to routing Chinese censorship: Users have also reported difficulty accessing virtual private networks (VPNs) in recent weeks, a tool frequently relied on by users in China and other countries with limited online freedom to bypass restrictions.
China isn’t the first country to block Google services — their actions mirror Iran’s block in September, which was only partially lifted to allow Gmail access after complaints from Iranian officials. While China and its Great Fire Wall are largely discussed as among the most complex and restrictive Internet filtering regimes, Iran has been working towards cutting itself off from the internet entirely and replacing it with a closet network. The equipment behind that closed intranet was manufactured by Chinese company Huawei. The U.S. announced sanctions against Reza Taghipour, the minister behind Iran’s internet censorship program, citing his role in jamming satellite television broadcasts and restricting Internet connectivity. It’s highly unlikely China will face similar repercussions for their online censorship.