China’s Internet censors, known popularly as the ‘Great Firewall of China’, have somehow been bypassed this past week by citizens of China through a number of means, including cell phone use and VPN, resulting in an inundation of comments on President Barack Obama’s Google+ page from people in China.
While the majority of the posts have been deemed ‘innocuous’ by news sources, a number of comments from Chinese citizens have included pleas to the president to pay more attention to Chinese civil rights, calls to free Chinese political prisoners like Chen Guangcheng and the beginning of a tongue-in-cheek meme — ‘Occupy Obama’.
This breach seems to have taken place through Google+ only (Update: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have now been accessed by Chinese citizens). This fact, paired with the complex and sometimes acrimonious history between Google and China (timeline here) — which includes a mysterious, “highly sophisticated and targeted” cyber attack on Google in December of 29 — has those of us at SMC interested to know more about Google’s understanding of the current situation, and their opinion on the breach. We contacted Google in order to get some more details. Here is their representative’s response:
Thanks for your email. There is nothing unusual on our side.
We followed up, asking if they would expand upon the response and reiterating a request for an official opinion from Google regarding the breach. Their response:
Sorry, we have no further comment.
China’s government is widely known for its sophisticated utilization of web censorship, while Google’s philosophy includes “democracy on the web works” and “the need for information crosses all borders” in its list of core principles. Indeed, the representative from Google responding to our queries expressed public concern on her Google+ profile last week regarding an ad that the Pakistani government posted in a newspaper asking for proposals for a national URL filtering and blocking system.
There has not been an official response from Google regarding the situation with Google+ in China, and there is not, at the time of publishing, any mention of it on their official blog.
We’re hoping to hear from Google — an organization that prides itself on connectivity and openness — in the near future. If any of you in our readership has information to add to the story, please let us know.
Update: Google’s response to Reuters: “A Google spokesman said the company had not done anything differently that would have led to the access. One Google executive told Reuters that the company had noticed the opening early last week.”
Update 2: A highly informative overview from TPM on the breach