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Google says site was blocked in China

Google said Tuesday that its search engine was blocked in China for a portion of the day, the first time the site was entirely inaccessible since the Internet giant announced that it would stop censoring results.

The company had said earlier in the day that an internal technical issue had caused the search engine to go down, but later concluded that “the great firewall,” was to blame, according to a company spokesman. The spokesman said it was unclear whether the site had been intentionally blocked by censors, or whether there had been a technical problem in China.

Google said that the search engine is now accessible to Chinese users and that it is still investigating the episode.

The specific issue has to deal with search demand coding that contained the letters "rfa," which the company believes could be mistaken by filters in China for "Radio Free Asia," a non-profit media group that has been banned by Chinese censors. The company had thought by adding that coding, it has run into filters. But because the coding had been placed one week ago, the shutdown of its search site to users in China didn't appear to be related to that coding.

"So whatever happened today to block Google.com.hk must have been as a result of a change in the great firewall," a spokesperson said in a statement. "However, interestingly our search traffic in China is now back to normal--even though we have not made any changes at our end. We will continue to monitor what is going on, but for the time being this issue seems to be resolved."

Last week, Google announced it would redirect search queries in China to servers in Hong Kong to avoid China’s demands to censor certain politically sensitive sites. The Chinese government immediately began filtering some sites; Google’s search engine on mobile phones in China has was also partially blocked Sunday and Monday.

Analysts and China experts have been closely monitoring China's reaction to Google's move. Immediately after Google shut down its China-based search site, users in China reported certain sites -- such as those related to Tiennaman Square and the religious movement Falun Gong -- were blocked. Experts said the Chinese government had been filtering those search results for Chinese users who were being redirected to Google's Hong Kong-based site.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a visiting fellow for technology policy at Princeton University, said it would be unlikely for the Chinese government to completely ban the search engine for its citizens. She said the government would be careful not to draw too much attention to a practice that citizens would view as too heavy handed by its government.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 30, 2010; 8:08 PM ET
 
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Comments

Google had 125 million loyal search users in China.

Those folks picked Google over the home team, Baidu, and that should mean a lot to every American.

Google's decision to leave the market isn't like America abandoning its friends in Southeast Asia as we did when Saigon fell. Google's decision to leave the market isn't even like American soldiers fathering children in Vietnam and leaving them to the wiles of the North Vietnamese communist regime either.

Google's departure from China is a regrettable one though. It takes integrity and tenacity to remain loyal to customers when Chinese students hack your site and wound your pride.

Google's quaint slogan "Don't Be Evil" works well for a company filled with software engineers. When working in global markets though, a better slogan is --

Don't Be Cowards.

Posted by: blasmaic | March 31, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

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