Thursday, December 20, 2012

Apple adopted https in App Store. China threatens to censor apps.

Recently, China threatens to require every app to have a license in order to go on sale, as reported by New York times(link is external). The time is too coincidental as Apple adopted https on iTunes for searching and downloading Apps. 
Before this adoption, searching for certain keywords such as "vpn" would lead to a connection reset on iTunes and visiting the page for certain Apps, such as VPN Express would also cause a reset, which means there is no way for users in China to search for or download certain Apps even if they are available in China App Store.  
But because now https is implemented by Apple on almost all connection to iTunes server, Great Firewall of China has no way to selectively block connection to certain contents. A test to the same link mentioned above with https  protocol yields no censorship.
This change provides a commercial platform in China(China App Store uses CNY for payment) not subject to the arbitrary censorship of the government. For example, opendoor(link is external) an app dedicated to circumventing the Internet is on sale on China App Store and users are willing to pay to remove ads in the app. Any other trading platform, such as Taobao(Chinese version of ebay) is actively censoring Internet Circumvention tools and selling anti-censorship tools there is not possible.
Therefore, it is highly likely that the government have noticed this loophole in its censorship net, and is now trying to close it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

New censorship on weibo

Back in October, I mentioned that weibo rolled out new semi-censorship. Apparently this is not enough. Now weibo has four different ways to censor keywords.

A. Explicit complete censorship

根据相关法律法规和政策,“[the blocked keyword]”搜索结果未予显示。
This translates into:
According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for [the blocked keyword] can not be displayed.
Keyword example: 六四
Note: This is the good old way of censorship since the beginning of weibo.

B. Implicit complete censorship

抱歉,未找到“[the blocked keyword]”相关结果。
This translates into:
Sorry, no relevant results could be found for [the blocked keyword].
Keyword example: 江泽民
Note: This is a brand new form of censorship. Sina weibo used to admit what they censored. Now this message will also be shown to b keywords which actually have no results such as "dsfhadslfhadsljk".

C. Explicit semi-censorship

根据相关法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。
This translates into:
According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, some of the search results can not be displayed.
Note: This method is employed around October as mentioned in the blog post.

D. Implicit semi-censorship

When you search for the keywords, only some selected results are returned. With a message at the button, stating
为了提供多样性结果,我们省略了部分相似微博,您可以点击查看全部搜索结果.。
This translates into:
In order to provide a diversity of results, we omitted some similar results. You could click here to view all results.
However, this message is shown to every keyword(except complete censored ones and those actually without any results). So you cannot determine the keyword is semi-censored from this message alone. When you click to view all results, sina weibo will append "&nodup=1" to the end of the search url. Now it will show the exact same message as b. Implicit complete censorship.
抱歉,未找到“[the blocked keyword]”相关结果。
This translates into:
Sorry, no relevant results could be found for [the blocked keyword].
Keyword example: 习近平(link is external)
Note: This is a brand new way of censorship. It's really interesting to see how keywords are censored. For example, the censorship status of "习近平" went from a->not censored(?)->c->d->c. As I started to write this post, it was d, as I used web-archive to record it(link is external). When I'm writing this sentence 28 minutes later, however, it switched back to c. Another keyword "江泽民" went from a->b->a->b and stays at b. 
Much emphasis is also put on preventing users from posting sensitive weibo. Some keywords couldn't be posted on weibo in the first place, others will trigger a manual review by censors. Unfortunately, I haven't monitored that kind of censorship yet.