Gmail gets burned by China’s 'Great Firewall'

Google's Gmail service has been cut off in China since Friday, leaving citizens and some companies without e-mail access. The only way to access Gmail is through a VPN, which allows users to bypass China's notorious 'Great Firewall.'

Andy Wong/AP/File
Google's Gmail service has been blocked in China for several days. Here, a security guard walks past the Google China headquarters in Beijing.

Google’s Gmail service was blocked in China over the weekend, and large numbers of users were still without their e-mail service on Monday.

Various Google services have been blocked in China since at least 2009, but this is the first time people in China have lost access to Gmail even through third-party programs such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail.

Google’s Transparency Report, which shows real-time traffic to the company’s services, shows Gmail traffic in China dropped to near zero on December 26.

"I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google's presence in China and even weaken its market overseas," an unnamed member of GreatFire.org, a Chinese freedom of speech group, told Reuters on Monday. Most reports on the outage suggest that China’s “Great Firewall” is responsible for the blocking. The so-called “Great Firewall” blocks access to certain websites, including those the Chinese government finds politically objectionable, and also monitors people’s Internet activity within the country.

It’s still possible to access Gmail in China by using a VPN, or virtual private network – a point-to-point connection that allows individuals to bypass Internet censorship by encrypting traffic or using a tunneling protocol. Companies headquartered in China that use Gmail as their e-mail service will experience disruption unless their employees use VPNs to bypass the blocking. Gmail addresses are also popular among Chinese students, many of whom use their accounts to apply to universities in other countries. Those students could have a tough time completing their applications if access to Gmail remains cut off.

China began disrupting Google services in June, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, and the violent government response to those protests. The country’s Communist Party controls what online materials are accessible within Chinese borders; critics say this censorship cuts the Chinese Internet off from the rest of the world.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told Reuters that the government was committed to supporting foreign companies. “China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude towards foreign investors doing legitimate business here,” she commented, adding, “We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China.”

Taj Meadows, a spokesman for Google Asia Pacific, told the Associated Press that the company is investigating the outage in China, but that it doesn’t appear that anything is wrong from a technical standpoint. This suggests that the Great Firewall is behind the blocking, and that Gmail might not return to China until, or unless, the government decides to allow it.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.