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China Blocks Web Searches in an Attempt to Halt Protests

June 16, 2011


China has blocked internet searches after riots and unrest struck its southern province of Guangdong, home to many impoverished migrant workers.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Despite rampant censorship, the hacker collective Anonymous is yet to target the Chinese government as it did governments in the Middle East.

Anonymous remains silent on Chinese censorship

In China the long dreaded “Jasmine Revolution” might be starting to finally materialize.  Outraged and impoverished, migrant workers in Zengcheng, a city in the country’s sea-facing southern Guangdong province, have taken to the streets in protest, clashing with police.  The protests and riots began last week when police told two migrant workers to stop selling goods in the street, and then proceeded to knock down one of the migrants who was pregnant.  Video of the incident went viral and soon everyone was outraged.

China has blocked Google searches for the word “Zengcheng”.  It has installed similar blocks on the country’s most popular microblogs, including Sina and Tencent.  The measures make it difficult for protest movements to materialize, given that the nation already blocks Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (though government-monitored local variants of these respective services are popular).

Earlier this year China shut down the popular messaging service QQ, local social networks, and microblogs to try to quell ethnic unrest in Inner Mongolia (in China’s northern provinces).  The nation also has made it impossible to search for the term “jasmine”, aware of the calls for a “Jasmine Revolt”.  Any search attempts simply result in the connection to the search servers resetting.

Dealing with China has become a frustrating exercise for American firms.  Google Inc. (GOOG), who maintain a strong search and smart phone presence in China accused the nation of trying to hack the Gmail accounts of dissidents and deny service to Gmail at different times this year.

In 2009, China’s eastern-most province, Xinjiang, suffered riots that left 200 dead — likely at the hands of police.  The Chinese government responded with the extreme measure of cutting off internet for six months to the region.

Surprisingly Anonymous, the international hacker group who was very active in the Middle Eastern revolts, has been silent on the growing China issue.  It is unclear whether Anonymous doesn’t feel the Chinese government’s censorship warrants or an attack or perhaps that it fears the cyber prowess of the nation.

China’s military is a long ways behind the U.S. in technology, but in the online world China appears to be well ahead of the U.S.  The Chinese military maintains a large cyber espionage presence, and the Chinese government also allegedly hires individual hackers to do its dirty work.

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