Are Google and Gmail Really the Enemy of China?

By Ford, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Are Google and Gmail Really the Enemy of China?


Ford, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


China has cemented another brick into the Great Firewall of censorship that blocks its citizens' access to large swaths of the Internet, sealing off Google's Gmail service.

Google traffic in and out of China plummeted on Dec. 26 and has flatlined since, according to Google's records.

"We've checked and there is no problem at our end," said Taj Meadows, Google spokesman for Asia. The Chinese Ministry of Information and Technology, responsible for the technical aspects of Internet censorship, did not reply to faxed questions.

The abrupt halt in services left millions of Chinese Gmail users stranded. Among them was Song Ming, a furniture trader in Bengbu in the southern province of Anhui, who suddenly found himself cut off from his customers. "I had no time to inform my clients," he said. "If Gmail has problems ... it is too risky to keep using it."

Also angered by the censors' move was a travel agent in the western city of Xian. "This really affects my business very much," he said asking not to be identified for fear of official retribution. "I'd switched to Gmail because I thought it was worldwide."

It had been getting harder and harder to use Google products such as Gmail, Search, and Google Docs since the summer. Now only special Virtual Private Network software, which circumvents the censor, gives access to those services in China.

Gmail does not have a huge number of users here. The service enjoys less than 2 percent of the Chinese e-mail market, according to a study by Internet traffic analyst Hitwise reported last year.

But the new block is symptomatic of the Chinese authorities' attitude to the Internet. "This is not a major blow to the business, but it is a further tightening of the screw," said one source familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

"It is as if they have decided Google is the enemy, it is really grim," added Jeremy Goldkorn, an Internet entrepreneur in Beijing. …

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