Surfing the Censored Internet

Internet censorship is something that is often discussed but rarely experienced firsthand, at least here in the West. For most of us, we can write about, read and look for anything that interests us on the Internet. But this isn't the case everywhere. In some countries the people can only access an Internet that is heavily censored and blocked. And the censorship isn't focused solely on porn, gambling and other frowned-upon activities. The censorship often involves legitimate news Web sites, public organizations and even entire country Web sites. The biggest example of this is what is called The Great Firewall of China, the system used by the Chinese government to control what Chinese citizens can read and access on the Internet. What is it like to have access to a censored and controlled Internet, where there's always a chance that a site you want to go to is blocked and inaccessible?

chinachann.JPGInternet censorship is something that is often discussed but rarely experienced firsthand, at least here in the West. For most of us, we can write about, read and look for anything that interests us on the Internet.

But this isn't the case everywhere. In some countries the people can only access an Internet that is heavily censored and blocked. And the censorship isn't focused solely on porn, gambling and other frowned-upon activities. The censorship often involves legitimate news Web sites, public organizations and even entire country Web sites.

The biggest example of this is what is called The Great Firewall of China, the system used by the Chinese government to control what Chinese citizens can read and access on the Internet. What is it like to have access to a censored and controlled Internet, where there's always a chance that a site you want to go to is blocked and inaccessible?

If you really want to find out the answer to this question, download the free Firefox extension called the China Channel. The China Channel is a simple proxy system that runs your browser behind a Chinese IP address. When the China Channel is activated, you see the Internet as a person in China would.

To test the China Channel, I used a Wikipedia list of sites known to be blocked in China. Sure enough, with the China Channel enabled I was unable to browse to any of these sites, mostly receiving errors and in one case while doing a Yahoo China search getting a rare Yahoo error 999.

Since you are running through a proxy server on the other side of the world, surfing through the China Channel can be slow. But fast or slow, using the China Channel can be eye opening for those of us who are used to a wide open Web.

To try out the China Channel Firefox extension, go to http://chinachannel.hk/