Ben Edelman on the Blogspot – Google phenomenon in China

Over the weekend I wrote emails about the Google – Blogspot situation in China to some of the experts who wrote about the ban last year. One of them, Ben Edelman, who was then with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, forwarded me a response he wrote to a similar email from Fons over at Media in China. He told me I could post it on my own blog and pass it along.

It’s quite interesting, especially that he seems to think the lifting of the ban is here to stay, at least in those lucky cities like Beijing and Dalian. Anything in bold is highlighted by me.


Fascinating situation.

When I first got your note yesterday (before the further news of today), I thought this might be a temporary and transient phenomenon. After all, if Google changed which IP addresses it uses for some purpose, China’s special filters for Google might be tricked — and this effect would be all the larger and more prolonged due to the Chinese holiday (during which fewer Chinese networking staff would be available to update the block list), not smaller (as you had hypothesized, thinking that the accessibility of Google had to reflect an affirmative action by China). But the longer the Google contents remains accessible, the less likely this theory, and the more likely the alternative that the block simply has been reversed, at least for some places.

I read the posts at
and wanted to comment in particular on one suggestion offered there.
Consider the following claim from that page: “One of Richard’s readers tells us
that Google’s cache is working for sites that are not blocked but isn’t for those
that are. If this is a consistent thing then it’s evidence that Google is working very closely with the sensors to make Google work better.” I think this is simply false — the premise (“Google cache works, except for blocked sites”) does not imply the purported conclusion (“then Google is working closely with the censors”). Far more likely, in my view, is that the censors are able to look at Google’s URLs and decide whether or not to allow the request. Recall that Google’s cache URLs take a particular identifiable form (e.g.>). All recent tests indicate that China is perfectly able to filter according to the part of the URL after the question mark (the “URL parameters”). So China could block those Google searches that contain the word “cache” as well as the domain name of a blocked site. That’s just to say: There’s plenty to criticize about Google, but I don’t think the evidence is in place to accuse them of conspiring with China.

Feel free to forward or repost this message as appropriate….

Sorry for spacing problems in that blockquote; I couldn’t fix them. I’m hoping to get some more feedback over the next couple of days and will post replies as soon as they come it.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

What’s going on with Google and Blogspot?

It’s strange, you know, because everyone else is saying that Google’s cacheing function and all blogspot blogs (read: half the blogosphere) has been suddenly unblocked, but from my base here there’s been no change at all. Natta. Could this be…

January 25, 2004 @ 5:45 pm | Comment

I agree with this guy about the fact that china can filter URLs in such a way.

For example, geocities is blocked, but so is any URL containing “” – for example I once noticed that every URL containing “” was blocked – even, say, “”, though that doesn’t seem to be blocked any more (i.e. it just returns “404 URL not foun”, not “unable to find server” as it did before).

I still have no idea why they are so harsh on the whole of geocities … they don’t want chinese people creating their own websites out of Big Nanny in the Sky control ?

It’d be fun if some chinese professional censor came over and added a comment ๐Ÿ™‚

January 25, 2004 @ 6:08 pm | Comment

I had always thought geocities was blocked for the same reason blogspot was, namely it allowed Internet users to form and/or join communities. And we know how the CCP feels about its citizens forming communities that are unsupervised by a party member. Yahoo Groups was also banned when I lived there, presumably for the same reason. Of course, there are now so many blogging services out there, like blurty and livejournal, and so many online communities, you’d think the Chinese censors would die of nervous fatigue trying to censor them all.

One of my greatest frustrations when I was there was the blocking of Google Groups. I used to be a daily participant in their group on the composer Richard Wagner. When the ban was imposed, I found I could access the group and read all the posts, but was not permitted to post! When I clicked the Post link, the little E up in the right-hand corner of my computer screen would simply spin round and round forever, causing me endless grief. I mean, this was a group on classical music, not Jiang Zemin’s role in Tiananmen Square! Does anyone know if this has changed?

January 25, 2004 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

I didn’t intend to imply any certainty when I posted about Google possibly working with the government. The reason I did’t think a simple URL match is at work is because of the difference in the way sites/searches are blocked.

For example, if I search for free net (this is all one word – I just don’t want this post to time out) on Google, I get 4k returned and then it stops. No time out – the socket is closed immediately.

Now if I request or hrw’s website, I get nothing. Not a single byte, but I search for both of them on Google.

In the past, different sites have simply timed out, but when I try them now all the sockets are immediately closed with no timeout. Perhaps that portion is a technical upgrade, but it doesn’t explain the partial return when I search on fre e n et.

Now was I imagining things when I remember some discussion between the gov’t and Google when they blocked Google originally?

January 25, 2004 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

Well if Google isn’t working with the CCP, at least some Silicon Valley companies are. Cisco Systems and other US companies were more than happy to help them erect the Great Firewall, and I somehow don’t think they’ve left any money on the table since then either.

I’ve turned down ‘dirty’ work before on eithical/political grounds, but how do you make a public corporation behave well in situations like this? Cisco and Motorola argued at the time that ‘if they didn’t help them, the business would all go to the Europeans and Japanese’, and that they needed to stay ‘engaged in the emerging market of China’.

Which all of course is merely typical covering rhetoric for a public joint stock company about to do something dodgy.

January 27, 2004 @ 3:23 am | Comment

I really think some name dropping of large companies is not correct. We might all think China’s censors get help from Western companies, I do think it is wrong to connect companies with those expectations without even the beginning of a solid prove.
Do not forget you might me liable for damages if you make this accusations without even the beginning of a proof.

January 27, 2004 @ 6:20 am | Comment

Fons, the role of Cisco and other big IT companies in the creation of the Great Firewall is no secret and has been the topic of many articles. It’s a fact, not theory.

January 27, 2004 @ 7:44 am | Comment

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