Google: China Blocking Gmail to Counter Jasmine Revolution

Google said slowdowns in its Gmail service in China have been triggered by the Chinese government in the wake of political unrest stemming from the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.

Google March 20 said the Chinese government is disrupting the company's Gmail service, preventing users from sending messages, marking them unread and managing their e-mail in other ways.

The search engine believes the problems are connected to China's attempts to impede the "Jasmine Revolution" pro-democracy group, which took its name from the Tunisian revolt that triggered political unrest in the Middle East.

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK: "There is no technical issue on our side. We have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail."

For example, rather than a persistent denial of service as the result of a cyber-attack, the attack is a sophisticated approach where blocks come and go. This makes it appear as if the problem lies in Google's cloud computing infrastructure.

The blocking is intermittent, so it won't necessarily show up on Google's service dashboard, which charts Web services' ebb and flow in mainland China and other regions where its search and other services are offered.

Many Google Web services are currently blocked in China, as politically driven censorship is standard practice for China. Google in March 2010 ceased censoring search results in the country after a hack on its servers led to the exposure of Gmail accounts by Chinese human rights activists. The company still strongly believes the Chinese government was behind the Gmail attack.

Google harbors similar suspicions for this new, sly Gmail block, which it noticed started after dozens of political activists were arrested in China after calls online for people to start a Jasmine Revolution.

China's President Hu Jintao called for tighter Internet controls to help prevent social unrest, which means filtering out news of political happenings in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Google is also no stranger to politically related opposition.

The company is currently working with Microsoft to patch an exploit in the Windows operating system hackers are trying to leverage to target activists. The search engine called the attacks "highly targeted and apparently politically motivated."

Google, which declined to reveal what activists were targeted and where the attack originated from, said the recent blocking in China is separate from the MHTML exploit.