Twitter looks to be taking a new approach to Internet censorship. Rather than thump its chest and make big talk, like Google has done recently with China, Twitter is looking into technologies that will allow it to circumvent the censoring of Tweets. If they build a fence, Twitter seems to be saying, we won’t make them take it down, but rather will find a way around it.
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams didn’t mince words: “The most productive way to fight that is not by trying to engage China and other governments whose very being is against what we are about.” Williams is optimistic that “there are technological ways around these barriers.”
Twitter’s being closed-lipped about the actual details, for obvious reasons. Williams only suggested that Twitter’s general efforts were “interesting hacks.” No mention was made as to when and how Twitter would start its censorship counterattack.
When Google announced that it might be pulling out of China as a result of recent cyberattacks, everyone assumed the Chinese Government was involved in the breach. After all, pulling the plug on the largest customer base of Internet users in the world couldn't have been an easy decision to make, and would have been a bit of an overreaction if the evidence was pointing to a private individual or company. With this in mind however, its important to note that Google hasn't officially implicated the Chinese government in the attacks, and that rumor now stands in stark contrast to a statement issued today by Chinese officials.
The "accusation that the Chinese government participated in (any) cyberattack, either in an explicit or inexplicit way, is groundless and aims to denigrate China," an unidentified ministry spokesman told Xinhua, according to an Agence France Presse report. "The U.S. has criticized China's policies to administer the Internet and insinuated that China restricts Internet freedom...This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-U.S. relations," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The harsh words quoted above out of Beijing are one of the first public reactions to Hillary Clintons recent lecture on Internet freedom. In her speech Clinton criticized Chinas efforts to censor the country's 384 million web users which she claims are trapped behind "The Great Firewall of China". Clearly the Chinese government was not amused. Google hasn't stopped censoring the results on Google.cn just yet, but CEO Eric Schmidt said on Thursday that it would happen soon.
So is China's blanket denial of any wrong doing good enough for you? Keep this link bookmarked for ongoing coverage of the situation as it unfolds.
As if the story of the Chinese cyber-attack wasn’t convoluted enough already, there’s still more news coming out. As Google was investigating the attacks it became apparent they were not the only victims. Upon discovering that Yahoo was targeted, Google reached out to “share knowledge”. It seems that Yahoo was aware of the attacks prior to Google contacting them, but chose to remain tight-lipped.
In the wake of the sophisticated attack, many of the victims are keeping their involvement secret. This is most likely to avoid demonstrating their vulnerability to the world at large. Several companies have, however, disclosed that they were affected by the attacks. Included in this group are Adobe, Juniper Networks, and Rackspace. Yahoo said in a statement that it is not their policy to disclose information relating to attacks on their systems. It remains unclear if Yahoo knew that the incident affected other companies. It’s possible their investigation was not as thorough as Google’s.
Yahoo has a history of cooperation with the authorities in Bejing. Activist groups have been outraged when, on several occasions, Yahoo handed over details on Chinese dissidents to the government. Should companies like Yahoo come clean and discuss the attacks?
Rumors are swirling that indicate the recent attacks on Google’s servers may have been carried out with the help of some China-based Google employees. According to sources, a number of employees at the China offices were placed on mandatory leave, and others were transferred. Google even went so far as to briefly cut the workers off from the network to make sure it was secure.
Google is currently remaining tight lipped about this bit of the puzzle. This is strange considering how forthcoming they were with other details. The attack took advantage of a known security hole in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. This has led France and Germany to recommend their citizens stop using the browser for the time being.
Could this be the real reason Google seems so ready to pull out of China? If they suspect their own employees were convinced to assist in the attack, they may feel the situation is already out of control. Are we getting the real story here? Let us know in the comments.
Google’s move was spurred by a highly sophisticated cyber-attack on it, and a number of other companies, that originated in China. One target of the cyber-attack was the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google initially went against its corporate ethos is agreeing to censor when it set up Google.cn, but the subsequent cyber-attacks looks to have forced Google to rethink its digression.
The response from China? “The Chinese government administers the Internet according to the law and we have explicit stipulations over what content can be spread on the Internet,” said Jiang Yu, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry. And Wang Chen, director of the State Council Information Office said, “Effective guidance of public opinion on the Internet is an important way of protecting the security of online information.” In plain-speak: We like censorship. Censorship is the law. Violate the law and you’ll be punished.
Huang Jing, a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, said, “The Chinese government may want to give Google’s high-profile move the cold shoulder. Given the reason Google cited in its announcement--that Google.cn can no longer put up with Beijing’s censorship--the CCP leaders are afraid that it could set a dangerous political precedent should they compromise on this one.”
Google’s only other option would be to walk away from the Chinese market, something Google says it is prepared to do. At present that wouldn’t be much of a hit to Google’s bottom-line--it is reported to have earned $350 million in China in 2010, or about 1.5 percent of its total revenue. The future, however, is another matter.
In a blog post today, Google has revealed some details on what it says was an unusually coordinated series of cyber-attacks launched against it in December. The attacks, which originated in China, were apparently aimed at gaining access to the Gmail accounts of a number of advocates for human rights in China. Google says only two accounts appear to have been accessed, and even then only basic details like subject lines and date stamps were taken.
As part of their investigation, Google claims to have discovered that dozens of human rights activists the world over have had unauthorized individuals access their Google accounts. This was not part of the December attacks, but was likely the result of phishing. Google has apparently plugged the holes that were exploited, but they aren’t done yet.
The Google.cn domain was launched in 2006 when the internet giant agreed to censor some search results. At the time, Google indicated they would monitor the situation, and adjust their approach if needed. According to the blog post, “These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China.”
So starting now, Google says they will stop filtering search results in China. The Mountain View based company plans to discuss with the Chinese government the possibility of operating an unfiltered search engine. If that is not possible, the Google.cn domain may be shut down along with the Chinese Google offices. Is this a good move for Google? Should a commitment to free speech outweigh the lucrative nature of the Chinese market? Or maybe this move is just long overdue.
Apple’s iPhone app store in China is absent apps that refer to the Dalai Lama and Rebiya Kadeer. The Dalai Lama is the Tibetan religious leader the Chinese government refers to as a “devil with a human face” and a “splittist”, while Kadeer is a prominent leader of a Uyghur minority, in the northwest region of Xinjiang province. (And don’t even think about looking for the Falun Gong.) As the iPhone is now official in China, being offered by China Unicom, Apple has obliged its new marketplace masters by removing the offending apps.
Apple’s move isn’t all that surprising, after feeling the ‘sting’ of Chinese displeasure last year. During the Beijing Olympics, China shut down the iTunes Music Store when a new collection of songs about Tibet was added.
When the Zune HD launched everyone was bothered by the lack of apps. It seemed like the perfect platform for it. Microsoft did eventually grace us with a few games and miscellaneous goodies. But as we all know, you can’t have an application platform without at least one Twitter client. Well, today the Zune HD got just that, a Twitter app.
The app can be found on the Marketplace right this second. It is first and foremost, a very attractive Twitter client. As it turns out, it’s also inexplicably laggy. The Zune HD packs the impressive Nvidia Tegra chip, but this app somehow obfuscates the power of the hardware. Just scrolling through and refreshing tweets seems to cause random crashes. Many are finding that touches aren’t being correctly interpreted either.
The truly confusing thing here is that the app actually censors tweets. As one astute reader tipped Engadget, any profanity is automatically replaced with asterisks. This is a move right out of Apple's App Store playbook, but worse because it is doing live censoring of content. Yes, the app is free, but keep in mind this device has a web browser capable of displaying all manner of online obscenity. Hopefully a software update will fix these problems. Hit the comments with any thoughts you have on this.
At at townhall style session with Chinese students in Shanghai, President Obama spoke up for an uncensored Internet. “I am a big believer in technology and I’m a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information,” the President said in response to a student’s question, following up with “I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity.”
Mr. Obama was treading carefully, given the Chinese government’s careful control of Internet content, derisively referred to as “the great firewall.” During the days surrounding the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, for example, the Chinese government blocked access to popular Web sites, such as Hotmail, Flickr and Twitter. (YouTube has been blocked since March.)
The President added: “I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”
A well known Bavarian actor by the name of Walter Sedlmayr was murdered in 1990. Two of his associated were tried and convicted of the crime. These men were recently paroled, and one of them is none too pleased that anyone can read all about him on the internet. He has retained a lawyer and has sued Wikipedia in Germany, and is also making noise about suing the English language version.
This all comes back to German law, which holds that private citizens should have their names and likenesses protected. The ex-convict is making the argument that while he may have been a public figure during the trial, he isn’t anymore. He wants the Sedlmayr page censored to remove all mention of him.
The EFF is strongly opposed to the possibility of censoring Wikipedia at the behest of a convicted murderer (or anyone for that matter). They point out that is it impossible for all publications to abide by the censorship laws of any legal system. The U.S. First Amendment protects this sort of speech, but how far will the German lawyers try to take this?