No more Namibia: China blocks search results for entire country

Crossposted at the ONI Blog

According to the Chinese government, Namibia — a southern African country with a population of 2 million — does not exist.

Government censors ordered Chinese search engines to show no search results for the country’s name this week, following a corruption scandal involving a Chinese tech company’s dealings with Namibia’s government.

The company, Nutech, was formerly run by the son of Chinese president Hu Jintao. It is under two separate investigations by Namibian and European Union officials for allegedly using illegal methods, including bribery and unfair trade practices, to secure a USD55.3 million contract to sell cargo scanners to the Namibian government.

Though Jintao’s son is not a suspect in the case, government censors have reacted swiftly to the investigation, shutting down two Chinese tech news sites and blocking a list of keywords including “Hu Haifeng, Namibia, Namibia bribery investigation, Yang Fan bribery investigation, Nuctech bribery investigation, [and] southern Africa bribery investigation.” Searching for these words on Chinese search engine produces an error message [ZH] that can be translated as, “Search results may not be in line with the relevant laws and regulations and policies, not shown.”

The past two months have been busy ones for Chinese censors. In early June the government blocked access to Twitter, Hotmail and Flickr in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Less than a week later, the news broke that the government would begin requiring all PCs sold in the country to come equipped with Internet filtering software. And in July, Internet access was completely shut down in the capital of the Xinjiang region after ethnic riots that left nearly 200 people dead.

For more information on China’s Internet filtering practices, check out the OpenNet Initiative’s recently released China country profile.

WordPress blocked in Guatemala

WordPress blocked. Guatemala follows China’s example

Crossposted on the OpenNet Initiative blog

Guatemala’s ongoing political crisis, which began with the murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg and has been fueled largely by YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, reached a new level over the weekend when several ISPs began blocking access to

Reports of the blocking first reached Twitter on June 26, when user @demuxer noted that some Internet users in Guatemala were unable to access WordPress and wondered if Chapintocables, a political blog created after Rosenberg’s death, was somehow involved:

Some users in Guatemala can’t access wordpress, is it @chapinocables’ fault? #insolitogt #escandalogt

The news spread through Twitter and Facebook, with many Guatemalans encouraging their fellow Internet users to report the blocking on Herdict, which tracks reports of inaccessible sites worldwide. Reports from Guatemala saw a spike over the weekend, with reported inaccessible nearly 30 times.

The block was initially attributed to technical errors, but as WordPress continues to be inaccessible, opinions are changing. Eduardo Arcos of Alt1040 writes [ES]:

Supuestamente se atribuyen problemas técnicos, pero el sentido común dice que se trata de un intento por parte del gobierno guatemalteco de reducir el acceso a información independiente, libre y crítica sobre la crisis política que se vive en el país y la relación con el caso del Twitter de Jeanfer.

[The block has been] allegedly attributed to technical problems, but common sense says that this is an attempt by the Guatemalan government to reduce access to independent information that is free and critical about the political crisis experienced in the country and the respect for Jeanfer of Twitter. [the man who was arrested for criticizing the government on Twitter].

David Alayón of Bitacoras concurs [ES]:

Desde hace unos días, los usuario de residentes en Guatemala no tienen acceso a este servicio. Se ha descartado la posibilidad de ser un error relacionado con los proveedores de Internet y se baraja el hecho de que el propio gobierno lo haya bloqueado.

For several days, the users in Guatemala have had no access to the service. The possibility of this being an error related to Internet service providers has been ruled out, and [opinion] has shifted to the idea that the government has blocked it.

Today Chapintocables reported [ES] that three ISPs, Turbonet, Telgua and Tigo, are currently blocking access to

Actualmente, TurboNet, Telgua, y Tigo son los que tienen restringido el acceso a nuestros blogs, los invitamos gentilmente a que levanten este bloqueo, porque ESTAMOS EN GUATEMALA, NO EN CHINA.

Currently, TurboNet, Telgua and Tico have restricted access to our blogs, we gently invite them to the lift the block, because WE ARE IN GUATEMALA, NOT IN CHINA.

According to Twitter reports, is still accessible through ISP Cybernet de Guatemala S.A.

UPDATE: Renata Avila just posted an update on the situation on Global Voices Advocacy.

Evaluating China’s Green Dam software

The news that China will begin requiring all computers sold in the country to include Internet filtering software has sparked waves of commentary on topics ranging from legal challenges to human rights issues to concerns about security and effectiveness. Also, a post on African porn.

The software, known as Green Dam Youth Escort, ostensibly protects children from harmful information online by filtering out sites that contain prohibited keywords. It will be mandatory on every computer sold in China after July 1, 2009.

The OpenNet Initiative, where I’m working as part of my internship for Harvard’s Berkman Center, worked this week to evaluate the functionality of Green Dam. In “China’s Green Dam: The Implications of Government Control Encroaching on the Home PC,” we review the functional elements of this new software and explore the possible effects of its implementation on a national scale. We conclude that Green Dam is deeply flawed and poses critical security concerns for users.

China censors light-colored naked photos; darker skin gets through filter

The latest news in the world of Internet censorship is about China’s Green Dam software, which ostensibly protects Chinese children by filtering out pornographic Web sites.

China has recently announced that all PCs sold in the country must come with the software, beginning on July 1, 2009. Critics say Green Dam will be used to crack down on Internet users, making it even more difficult to access uncensored information from China.

In addition to blocking sites that include keywords such as “pornography” and, somewhat less justifiably, “touch” and “play,” the software also filters out images that have a high percentage of “skin colored” pixels. Oiwan Lam at Global Voices rounded up Chinese reactions to the software; among them was this gem:

How much flesh color does it take to make something “pornography”? I went on the Internet to check out some animal photos. A lovely little naked pig was sent onto the black list. Pitiful little pig! I was curious, so I looked up some photos of naked African women. Oh, they were not censored!

So apparently, it’s morally reprehensible to look up animals or, say, kids playing soccer, but African porn is totally okay!

For the latest news on Green Dam, check out the #greendam hashtag on Twitter.

Crossposted on the OpenNet Initiative blog.