Google's search engine and other sites are being blocked in China. The action means that hundreds of millions of Chinese users of the search engine are left without that resource, and will likely become aware of the apparent censorship.
Greatfire.org, a group that monitors Net activity and access in that country, reported the action Friday on its Web site, and said that the blocking included not only google.com, but also mail.google.com, google-analytics.com, docs.google.com, drive.google.com, maps.google.com, and play.google.com, among possible others.
Requests to those addresses are redirected to an IP address that Greatfire said is "located in Korea and doesn't serve any Web site at all." Greatfire said that Chinese users can still access Google via some of its various IP addresses. In addition, Greatfire reports that users inside China can access other country versions, such as www.google.co.uk.
Second Largest Search Engine
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all had their sites blocked in China at various times, but those were before they had attracted a large following there. While Google's search engine in China is the second largest behind Baidu, its user base is huge, given that the country has half a billion online users. According to Net statistic site Alexa, Google is the fifth most popular Web site of any kind in China.
The key question is why such a blocking by the Chinese government might have taken place now. Greatfire notes that the Chinese Communist Party is currently holding its 18th Party Congress, at which new leaders of the country and the party are chosen. "The fact that Google is blocked now is surely no coincidence," Greatfire says on its Web site, adding that it remains to be seen if Google will be un-blocked once the Congress concludes.
On Google's own online Transparency Report, there is a note that "All Google services inaccessible" in China as of today. In a statement, the technology giant said that it has checked and "there's nothing wrong on our end."
China Versus Google
The Chinese government has claimed for years that its regulations allow it to block Web sites that are not in compliance with its regulations. In 2010, Google refused to comply by censoring search results, and redirected users of its local search page to a site in Hong Kong, a former British colony which is now part of China.
Hong Kong is not subject to the same Web restrictions imposed on the rest of the country. To monitor the situation on an ongoing basis, Google had set up a Web page with daily updates about site availability in that country.
Also in 2010, Google reported that there had been efforts to hack into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
This past June, Google said it would display a warning to users in China whenever a search query was entered that was likely to result in an error beyond the company's control. For years, Google said it has received complaints about some search requests that had led to "this webpage is not available" or "the connection was reset" error pages. Such pages often result in a temporary disconnection to Google.
The company said it has found no technical problems on its end, but its analysis showed the searches were correlated to a particular set of Chinese characters, used in particular contexts. When those characters are entered in the search box in the problematic contexts, Google offers work-around terms that do not appear to cause the same disruptions.