Google Blames Search Block on Great Firewall of China

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-03-31

Google blamed blockages of searches on its Website in China on a change in that country's firewall censors, the latest issue involving the search engine's move to reroute users to to avoid censorship in that country.

People searching Google in China March 30 reported that was inaccessible. Searches on any topic, including phrases such as "Beijing Olympics" and "Beijing Metro," returned error messages, according to The Telegraph.

Search service on was eventually restored that evening. Chinese citizens and high-tech journalists covering the fallout between Google and China assumed the so-called Great Firewall of China, which censors Internet content in accordance with Chinese law, was behind the blockage.

Google did not rush to conclude China was actively blocking its search service, something many expected the country's leaders to do after Google shuttered its Website March 22 and began shuttling users to after failing to resolve a cyber-attack dispute with China.  

Google initially told eWEEK it believed search to was blocked due to a change the company made in its search parameters, involving a string of characters in a URL that sends information about a query to Google so that its cloud computing infrastructure can return results.

Specifically, Google said "gs_rfai" began appearing in the URLs, leading the company to assume China's firewall was associating the letters "rfa" with Radio Free Asia, a service that has been inaccessible in China for a long time. Later in the day the spokesperson told eWEEK:

"Having looked into this issue in more detail, it's clear we actually added this parameter a week ago. So whatever happened today to block must have been as a result of a change in the great firewall."

Whether Google was overtly blocked by China for opposing the country's rules, or inadvertently because its code contained a string of letters the Great Firewall's computers recognized as illicit, the service interruption was almost certainly related to China's censorship policies.

The block only lasted the majority of the day, which seemed to surprise Google. The spokesperson told eWEEK:

"However, interestingly our search traffic in China is now back to normal-even though we have not made any changes at our end. We will continue to monitor what is going on, but for the time being this issue seems to be resolved."

This is not the case for many of Google's applications in China, where YouTube, Blogger and Google Sites have long been blocked. Google Docs, Google Groups and Picasa are partially blocked in China.

Google's mobile services went wonky March 28, according to the company's service accessibility Web page for mainland China.

Many took this as a sign China was exerting more control over Google applications in the country. The March 30 search snafus, though resolved, heightened the suspicion.

Read more about this on Techmeme here.

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