This story is old hat by now, but it reminded me of an unusual anomaly when I was in China recently. Most readers are probably aware that some time ago China erected a firewall that censors parts of the internet it deems too sensitive for ordinary Chinese to view. Consequently, the more uncontrollable realms of the internet (like Blogspot.com) that could be exploited by computer users with a dissenting streak – as well as sources of critical news and the like – cannot be accessed within China. Wikipedia is also out of bounds.
Whilst in the Middle Kingdom, I visited a Sinophilic friend of mine. I would go so far as to say he has a case of the old rose-tinted glasses regarding China and the nature of its administration – needless to say we enjoyed a number of discussions about the direction China is heading in. Apart from being a China enthusiast, he is also an Apple Macintosh fanatic, and he owns one of those rather handsome new and expensive Apple Powerbook laptops. In one of our debates about Chinese freedom – or lack thereof – I parried with an example of China’s neutered internet access. Why, I was not even able to access my own (and now defunct) Blogspot blog in the country! Rubbish, cried my friend. He read my blog all the time on his Macintosh.
Of course, I had to see for myself, and sure enough it was able to be accessed on his computer. I know that sometimes the firewall does not work and once in a while you can view sites that are normally off limits. Then the firewall kicks in again and the illicit page is unable to reload. However, I accessed a number of different Blogspot sites on his Mac several times over a period of days without the slightest bit of hindrance, even though all Blogspot sites I tried to visit were blocked across the country on computers that ran Windows platforms. I even tried using a different browser – Firefox was no different to MSIE. I would have liked to have been able to test the theory further and Google up some Falun Gong links, but this did not seem prudent on someone else’s machine, given the Chinese government’s attitude to that group.
The above got me thinking – when the story broke about Microsoft shutting down that Chinese blog, I wondered if Microsoft and the Chinese government had colluded in the construction of the Great Internet Wall. In the eyes of the computing world, this would surely be a far more heinous crime. Since the Windows platform enjoys considerably less competition in China than it does in the MS-dominated West, ensuring Chinese Windows machines cannot access sites the Government disapproves of means the job is pretty much done.
I admit, if China and Microsoft did work together to construct the wall, it seems like an unusual and inelegant solution – relying on the software of the end user to filter out content. Surely some specific backdoor entrance would need to be engineered into the programme. I am certainly no computer expert – there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the above, and there are some pretty switched on people who comment here. Ideas?