of Google with Alternative Search Systems in China
Documentation and Screen Shots
Center for Internet & Society
Harvard Law School
The authors are studying Internet filtering in countries worldwide, and current investigations focus on restrictions on web access in China. Using a web-based system to test web filtering in China, the authors previously determined and confirmed that Google was inaccessible from at least one testing location in China; initially, in testing beginning August 29, a request for Google led to the error "host not found," consistent with requests for other inaccessible or blocked sites. However, using related methods, the authors have now confirmed and documented reports that Chinese Internet access currently provides pages other than the ordinary Google home page in response to requests for google.com; such behavior is believed to have begun on September 8. The screen shots below document 6 instances of this replacement.
Update (11:00 PM EST on September 11): Sources in China and the Real-Time Testing System confirm that Google is now reachable in China as usual. Requests for www.google.com now yield the expected Google search page (and not the third-party sites preserved below). However, searches for certain controversial sites appear to be restricted. The authors are working to prepare a sample of specific prohibited terms as well as to document the method of filtering.
Current testing suggests that filtering may vary across China. Some parts of China may not filter Google keywords at all, while other parts may disconnect a user's Internet connection (even an "always-on" high-speed connection) in response to a search for a prohibited term. Prohibited terms seem to include "jiang zemin" and "cache"; the latter is typically associated with requests to use Google's system for viewing archived content from other web sites.
The authors connected to the Chinese network so as to simulate network access just as experienced by ordinary users located in Beijing, China. The authors prepared the screen shots shown below on the morning of September 10, 2002, and each request reflects an ordinary web browser displaying the requested URL http://www.google.com. (Note that all screen shots but the second still show that URL; the site shown in the second screen shot seems to use a redirect to change the location specified in the browser's Address Bar.)
The screen shots shown below reflect that recent Chinese requests for www.google.com have instead been replaced with other sites including Openfind, Globepage, chinaren.com, search.online.sh.cn, fm365.com, and a search system at Peking University.
Discussion and References
Relevant news coverage includes the International Herald Tribune's China's Web Firms Gain as Google Loses, Reuters' Blocked Web Surfers in China Get Detour, and the South China Morning Post's Google Replacements Spin Web of Confusion (registration required). See also the authors' Other Resources about Internet Filtering in China.
Martin Schwimmer has analyzed certain legal implications (namely, implications under trademark law) of China's apparent replacement of Google with other sites.
The authors have manually tested access to a number of other sites previously found to be inaccessible over time (and therefore thought to be blocked intentionally by Chinese network administrators). Of these many sites, only Google was found to forward requests to third-party hosts (as detailed above); no other site was found to do so. The authors request and would much value information about any other blocked sites treated similarly to Google; such information would improve the accuracy of the system for Real-Time Testing of Internet Filtering in China and would likely be of substantial further interest.
The authors thank Yuen Chan, Thomas Crampton of the International Herald Tribune, and others who brought this issue to their attention.
Support for this project was provided by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
Last Updated: September 24, 2002 - Sign up for notification of major updates and related work.