Chinese authorities have detained a software developer for selling computer services that allow internet users to evade China’s “Great Firewall,” which blocks access to thousands of websites, from Facebook to Twitter to some news outlets, a media report said Monday:
The software developer, who is from the coastal province of Jiangsu, near Shanghai, was arrested in late August and held for three days for building a small business to sell virtual private networks, the Global Times newspaper reported, citing the official Xinhua news agency. VPNs create encrypted links between computers and allow Chinese web users to see blocked sites by hiding the address from government filters.
The youth wing of China’s ruling Communist Party on Monday said it had complained to social network Twitter about a fake account set up in its name that has tweeted sarcastic comments about the Communist Party, Reuters reports:
China blocks Twitter and other Western sites, such as Facebook and Google, but that has not stopped some state media and government departments from setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts in Chinese and English as they seek to expand their global footprint.
China has blocked Facebook and Twitter since mid-2009, after an outbreak of ethnic rioting in the western part of the country. In recent years, similar barriers have gone up for Google services and other apps, like Line and Instagram, The New York Times adds:
Even if Facebook found a way to enter China now, it would not guarantee financial success. Today, the overwhelming majority of Chinese citizens use local online services like Qihoo 360 and Sina Weibo. No American-made apps rank among China’s 50 most popular services, according to SAMPi, a market research firm.
Chinese tech officials said that although many in the government are open to the idea of Facebook releasing products in China, there is resistance among leaders in the standing committee of the country’s Politburo, its top decision-making body.
Beijing is exporting its Great Firewall to other countries, according to a leading analyst-activist.
“To think that other countries could easily replicate China’s draconian censorship is frightening,” said Charlie Smith, co-founder of GreatFire.org, a nonprofit that provides analysis and circumvention tools for the Great Firewall. “This has everything to do with protecting the party’s grip on power … Helping domestic companies may be an additional side benefit, but it is not the main reason,” he tells Engadget’s Nithin Coca:
While the origins of the Great Firewall may have been to protect the Communist Party, another impact has been to enable the growth of local internet companies. In China, you don’t Google something, you “Baidu” it. To tweet is to “Weibo”), referring to the national Twitter alternative. The language reflects the power of these Chinese alternatives, which grew under the protection of the Great Firewall.
“Essentially, the absence of US tech companies allowed China’s Internet companies to grow without strong competition and capture the lion’s share of the domestic market,” said Shanthi Kalathil, director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“China wields tremendous power because of its market, and this allows it to dictate terms in a way that other countries without that same market cannot,” said Kalathil [author of a recent report on China’s Great Firewall for the NED’s Center for International Media Assistance – above]. For example, WeChat, the most ubiquitous Chinese app, has nearly 800 million users and accounts for an astounding one-third of all Chinese user time on the mobile web. That gives it a powerful base from which to expand globally, as it has done with some success.