Access to Gmail has been blocked in China for the second time this year. The Chinese government has blocked users access to third-party applications used to access the popular email service created by Google. Many users found as early as Friday that their access had been blocked, creating much tension and anger throughout the country.
Google has been on China’s radar for years and blocking gmail is just the latest in the feud. Although it has not be officially reported, some publications have speculated that this is an attempt to undermine China as part of a Western conspiracy. In June of this year, China made a move to block Gmail in remembrance of the of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, wherein the government began to crack down on pro-democracy supporters in violent ways.
The China Information Office has been reportedly unresponsive to the many calls being made. A representative for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, had commented that China is open and welcoming to foreign investors. She also went on to say that she was unaware of the service disruption.
Reportedly, others are still concerned that the service disruption will stall corporations from doing business. Zach Smith, who works as a digital products manager based in Beijing, stated that it is “becoming harder and harder to connect and do work in China when services like Gmail are being blocked.” He also commented that the only way to get around the block is to use a VPN.
Traffic on the popular email site has dropped significantly in China, according to Google’s Transparency Report. The consequences for an action of this proportion in the country are large. The most common way for people to access Gmail has been through third-party applications like Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook, rather than directly through the Google website.
Early in 2009, Google made a move to close the popular search engine in mainland China. Representatives for the corporation claimed they did not agree with the issues of censorship throughout the country. Since then, most other Google products have been banned or limited seemingly to put the pressure on users in China to abandon the company and its offerings. Google products and services, however, remain popular among users who wish to avoid censorship.
The action of Gmail being blocked in China has affected more than just individual users. There are many corporations that use Google’s Gmail as their company email services, along with the millions of individual accounts hosted on the site. Corporations will now have to take an extra step by providing employees with private network access to allow them to access corporate email.
In addition to Gmail, websites for both the New York Times and Bloomberg were also blocked after both sites published different articles on the wealth of the leaders in China in 2012. In order to be able to access any of the sites by China’s “Great Firewall” users need to use a virtual personal network, or VPN, software that allows users to avoid censorship and view the Internet as everyone else sees it.
Access to Gmail has been blocked in China since last Friday. Although officials have not responded to the public tension over the service disruption, there is no reported end in sight for the blockage. For many users, a VPN is the only way to navigate around the censorship.
By Kerri Cushna
Photo by Wataru Ozaki – Flickr License