China has announced that it will be allowing access to sites such as Twitter and Facebook in the free-trade zone of Shanghai. The government says that it is so foreigners feel more at home when they visit. A Chinese official explained why the relaxation has occurred.
“If they can’t go on to Facebook or read the New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China,”
China blocked these sites back in 2009 after a riot occurred that they blamed on social networking sites. China does have its own Facebook equivalent, Renren , formerly Xiaonei, which was founded by Joseph Chen, a graduate from Stanford University, Delaware University and MIT. Renren has over 31 million active monthly users (April 2011).
Some have seen this as a beginning of the end of the Great Firewall of China, but others are more concerned about security and privacy issues. With the knowledge of the Prism and Tempora coming to the public eye, some are worried that China will also expect these companies to provide private information on users. The Open Rights Group were amongst the groups expressing worries,
“Small steps forward in China may be good news, but what is really important is that US web companies do not co-operate with any Chinese government requests,”
Google is another of the companies that has had problems with China’s strict censorship laws. Here’s a brief history:
- Google.com is available in China though most results, when clicked turn out to be censored
- Google says it will comply with China’s censorship laws and essentially surrender to the Golden Shield Project (the real name for the Great Firewall of China)
- google.cn begins and with tags on searches like “In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of the search result is not shown,” mak them the only major China-based search engine to explicitly inform the user when search results are blocked or hidden.
- Operation Aurora was carried out covertly over the second half of 2009
- In January 2010 Google released information on what happened in 2010 and said they would lift all censorship from google.cn
- Google decided to relocate from China to Hong Kong in March 2010 in a hope to keep their ‘no censoring’ promise and still retain some market share in China
- The Chinese government block content from Google Hong Kong
Ultimately, the great firewall is still there, just with a brick or two taken down.