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[liberationtech] Google Bows Down To Chinese Government On Censorship

Hal Roberts hroberts at
Fri Jan 11 15:14:29 PST 2013

I'd like to back this up.  I haven't done any research on circumvention 
usage for a couple of years, but it doesn't pass the sniff test to claim 
that a majority of the 500 million Chinese Internet users are on VPNs. 
Such widespread VPN usage would have large, obvious impacts on the basic 
structure of the Internet.

The sort of Chinese folks who talk to Wired reporters are likely to be 
on VPNs, but very few Chinese folks are the sort who talk to Wired 


On 1/10/13 6:22 AM, Martin Johnson wrote:
> I am in China.
> Google is said to have a 5% market share in China. There are at least
> 500 million Internet users so that makes for about 25 million users. The
> number of users using VPNs or circumvention tools is unknown but likely
> much smaller. For example, Twitter is estimated to have less than 20,000
> active users in China
> (
> Commercial VPNs require credit cards to sign up and are used by very
> few. Free circumvention tools like FreeGate reach many more but are also
> continuously targeted by authorities making them slow and unstable.
> Users who can circumvent the GFW do not always do it. Connecting is slow
> and, for running a general Google search, unnecessary.
> All this means that Google's user experience without a VPN matters a
> lot. Because of the decision they took in December, that user experience
> got worse.
> The users Wired talked to were not representative of Chinese netizens.
> As for the Techcrunch statements, "sources suggest" doesn't make it
> true. But it is true that "since the notification feature was
> implemented, access to Google’s search engine in China has been blocked
> more often than usual". That is, it was blocked once (on November 9) as
> opposed to "usual" which is that it isn't blocked. This blocking being
> part of Google's decision to disable the feature was exactly the
> argument that we were making. The authorities blocked Google and likely
> used this and the threat to permanently block it to pressure Google into
> doing their bidding.
> Martin Johnson
> Founder
> - Monitoring Online Censorship In China.
> - Uncensored, Anonymous Sina Weibo Search.
> - We Can Unblock Your Website In China.
> On Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 8:01 PM, Maxim Kammerer <mk at
> <mailto:mk at>> wrote:
>     On Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 1:03 PM, Martin Johnson
>     <greatfire at <mailto:greatfire at>> wrote:
>      > Yes, the question is what you call "working well". The
>     censorship-warning
>      > feature added last year was clearly improving the user
>     experience. Removing
>      > it worsened the user experience again.
>     Is this backed up by actual user experiences from China?
>     “When <> spoke to a few Chinese
>     residents about the disabled
>     Google feature, they were not even aware of it because they used VPNs,
>     demonstrating Google might not be taking into account just how savvy
>     its users are at all.” [1]
>     “Sources close to the matter suggest Google pulled the feature because
>     it was making it more difficult for users to access its search
>     services. […] However, since the notification feature was implemented,
>     access to Google’s search engine in China has been blocked more often
>     than usual […] meaning even fewer users were able to use Google
>     search.” [2]
>     [1]
>     [2]
>     --
>     Maxim Kammerer
>     Liberté Linux:
>     --
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Hal Roberts
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

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