Exploring The Real Lies Behind The GlobalWebIndex And Lightspeed Research

Forget Twitter and Facebook – exploring the real lies behind the GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research numbers

You may have noticed we made a lot of noise about a recent GlobalWebIndex study which claimed, among other things, that despite heavy online censorship, Chinese netizens are actually very active on blocked foreign social media web sites including Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

In response to our protests and the protests of journalists who could see that the numbers did not add up, GlobalWebIndex published a blog post on their web site and shared some of the information from the report. They also shared their rationale as to why, despite these web sites being blocked, there was so much activity from China:

However, it only takes a little bit of desk research to discover that what is called the “Great Firewall” is actually much more porous than the Chinese government would like to admit. On closer inspection, Chinese users are using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), VCN (Virtual Cloud Networks) or connections at work that may be routed internationally. Crucially, this means that users won’t be picked up in analytics and will not register as being in a Chinese location at all!

For us this was probably the most upsetting claim. We agree that Chinese netizens have access to VPNs at home or through their places of work and that certainly there are Chinese who are active on these social media platforms. But we hardly think it goes to the extent that GlobalWebIndex and their survey partner Lightspeed Research claim.

In reality, “it takes a little bit of desk research to discover” that China has created a sophisticated online censorship mechanism. Chinese netizens are prevented from accessing foreign web sites that are deemed to contain sensitive information and are also prevented from posting and searching for “sensitive” information on domestic social media web sites. Given China’s rise in influence around the world and the huge number of Chinese who have access to the internet, we felt that it was necessary that somebody bring transparency to online censorship in China. It is our hope those living in and beyond China will come to recognize that the internet is not free and open in China. It is highly controlled and manipulated and this lack of freedom of expression and freedom to find information, may one day lead to conflicts based on misunderstandings. We’ve seen recently how easy it is for authorities in China to encourage nationalistic fervor (see the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands protests) and how easy it is to turn this off.

We want to bring China’s internet censorship campaign to the awareness of a global audience in the hope that they can help bring about a change in how China treats access to information. The GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research report has successfully led many people to believe that the Great Firewall of China is weak and that Chinese can circumvent the firewall whenever they please.

VPNs and other forms of circumvention are beyond the means (technical or monetary) of the vast majority of netizens anywhere in the world. While there are free VPN solutions, in order to use them, most people would need a higher than average understanding of their computers. If they don’t have this knowledge, they can purchase access to a reliable VPN service with a user-friendly interface for around USD 80/year – not an insignificant amount in this country – but also a manageable number for many urban white collar workers.

If it was true that the internet was free and open to the numbers of Chinese netizens that GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research claim, then we would likely see a lot of different things on the internet, regardless of whether or not you could read Chinese. Charlie Custer has done a great job of exploring some of this issues but the one issue we’d point out is that we’d see huge levels of Chinese language activity, especially around recent issues like the Diaoyu/Senkaku island dispute. The evidence is just not there to show this.

Social network usage in China, according to GlobalWebIndex.

However, the real smoking gun with regards to the reliability of the GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research report comes when we look at a web site that is not blocked in China – LinkedIn.

GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research claim that LinkedIn has 16.23 million monthly active users in China, regardless of whether or not they are using a VPN or other circumvention tool to access a site that has only ever been blocked for one 24 hour period in China in 2011 and for a site that is largely mainly used by current job seekers and sales people (LinkedIn would refute this claim).

Regardless of whatever intent people have for using LinkedIn, in China, GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research claim that each month more than 16 million Chinese are active on this web site. Who knows what the number would be if inactive users were included (i.e. those who are not in sales nor currently looking for a job).

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that all 16.23 million LinkedIn users in China are active users. This number is quite different from numbers that LinkedIn and the company’s competitors have publicly released.

LinkedIn itself claims 175 million members worldwide. This would mean that at least 9% of all accounts on LinkedIn are originating from China. Linkedin claim that 108 million members are from outside of the US and of those members, 15 million can be found in India and 10 million in the UK. Numerous sources (see below) have put the number of registered users of LinkedIn in China at between 1-2 million people. It is no secret that the company is exploring establishing operations in China and has been for some time. They believe that they need an active China audience in order for the site to be truly global and to show shareholders that there is continued growth of the platform. At 16.23 million users, the Chinese LinkedIn population would already be larger than India’s where knowledge of English is widespread. LinkedIn itself, on its own backend advertising platform, show that there are currently 2.6 million users in China and 17 million in India (see below). Another 1 million users can be found in Taiwan and Hong Kong which would bring the current Greater China LinkedIn population to 3.6 million users.

GlobalWebIndex refuted similar statistics we gathered from Facebook’s backend advertising platform which shows less than 1 million users in China as opposed to the 63 million monthly active users that the Lightspeed Research produced. They claimed that because Chinese netizens were using VPNs to access Facebook, their location would likely show up outside of China. More precisely, more than 62 million Chinese were likely circumventing the Great Firewall.

The LinkedIn numbers are more difficult to explain away. Presumably, as more people use LinkedIn as their de facto online resume, you are unlikely to lie on your resume about where you are located in the world. Many overseas Chinese students might be using LinkedIn and have changed their location to be their place of study.  Alexa shows that 0.9% of visitors to LinkedIn are from China. Yes, Chinese netizens presumably could be using a VPN to access LinkedIn even though it is not necessary for them to do so.

There is one other possible explanation and for want of spending the night spinning dancing around the outside of the ring, that other possible explanation is that the GlobalWebIndex and Lightspeed Research are completely falsified. We can’t figure it out. Did they just increase the numbers by a factor of X? Did they poll people in Hong Kong thinking that this would be an adequate sample size? Did they poll only Chinese who were using VPNs? Did they just randomly decide what the numbers should be? What would they have to gain? Some free publicity for one. Perhaps the sales team needed something exciting to sell to foreign companies about the Chinese internet although I pity any company using this data to make business decisions. Whatever the case may be, we’d love to hear an explanation of this issue. What we’d like more is a public apology letting us know that you just got it completely wrong. And that the likes of eMarketer, The Huffington Post, Financial Times, Bloomberg and a bevy of other lazy journalists did, too. Your public denial, combined with the power of the press, might help make the world aware again that their netizen brethren in China are still hidden behind this Great Firewall.

We’re sorry we can’t put our real names to this story. We are operating in China and we do fear that we’ll get discovered before we are able to bring transparency to online censorship in this country, but if you remain adamant about your numbers and you want to have a word with us, please do reach out to greatfire at greatfire dot org and we’d be happy to learn more about your research in an email exchange or on a Skype call.

External Sources On Number Of LinkedIn Users In China

From LinkedIn Itself

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星期一, 8月 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire Appmaker

GreatFire (https://en.greatfire.org/), a China-focused censorship monitoring organization, is proud to announce that we have developed and released a new anti-censorship tool that will enable any blocked media outlet, blogger, human rights group, or civil society organization to evade censors and get their content onto the phones of millions of readers and supporters in China and other countries that censor the Internet.

GreatFire has built an Android mobile app creator, called “GreatFire AppMaker”, that can be used by organizations to unblock their content for users in China and other countries. Organizations can visit a website (https://appmaker.greatfire.org/) which will compile an app that is branded with the organization’s own logo and will feature their own, formerly blocked content. The app will also contain a special, censorship-circumventing web browser so that users can access the uncensored World Wide Web. The apps will use multiple strategies, including machine learning, to evade advanced censorship tactics employed by the Chinese authorities.  This project will work equally well in other countries that have China-like censorship restrictions. For both organizations and end users, the apps will be free, fast, and extremely easy to use.

This project was inspired by China-based GreatFire’s first-hand experience with our own FreeBrowser app (https://freebrowser.org/en) and desire to help small NGOs who may not have the in-house expertise to circumvent Chinese censorship. GreatFire’s anti-censorship tools have worked in China when others do not. FreeBrowser directs Chinese internet users to normally censored stories from the app’s start page (http://manyvoices.news/).

星期五, 7月 24, 2020

Apple, anticompetition, and censorship

On July 20, 2020, GreatFire wrote to all 13 members of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting a thorough examination into Apple’s practice of censorship of its App Store, and an investigation into how the company collaborates with the Chinese authorities to maintain its unique position as one of the few foreign tech companies operating profitably in the Chinese digital market.  

This letter was sent a week before Apple CEO TIm Cook will be called for questioning in front of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. The CEOs of Amazon, Google and Facebook will also be questioned on July 27, as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into competition in the digital marketplace.

This hearing offers an opportunity to detail to the Subcommittee how Apple uses its closed operating ecosystem to not only abuse its market position but also to deprive certain users, most notably those in China, of their right to download and use apps related to privacy, secure communication, and censorship circumvention.

We hope that U.S. House representatives agree with our view that Apple should not be allowed to do elsewhere what would be considered as unacceptable in the U.S. Chinese citizens are not second class citizens. Private companies such as Apple compromise themselves and their self-proclaimed values of freedom and privacy when they collaborate with the Chinese government and its censors.

星期一, 6月 10, 2019

苹果审查中国西藏的信息

苹果在涉及西藏的审查方面有着悠久历史。 2009年,据计算机世界网透露 ,与达赖喇嘛有关的几个应用程序在苹果的中国区应用商店中不存在。这些应用的开发者未收到他们的应用被删除的通知。当面对这些审查制度时,苹果发言人只是说该公司将“继续遵守当地法律”。

2017年12月,在中国的一次会议上,当被问及与中国当局合作审查苹果应用商店时,蒂姆·库克 宣称

“所以你的选择是参与进去,还是站在局外,吼叫着事情应当怎样?我自己的看法非常强烈,你得进入赛场,因为没有任何东西会从局外发生改变。"

自苹果公司首次因与中国当局合作以遏制已被边缘化的声音而被批评的十年间,情况发生了什么变化?苹果继续严格遵守中国当局的审查令。蒂姆库克什么时候会期望他的公司能帮助在中国带来积极的变化?

根据生成的数据 https://applecensorship.com,Apple现在已经审查了在中国应用商店中29个西藏的热门应用程序。关于新闻,宗教研究,旅游甚至游戏的西藏主题应用程序正在被苹果审查。最下方附有完整的审查应用列表。

“苹果的领导力隐藏在他们审查应用程序以遵守模糊的'中国当地法律'的借口,但他们的行为缺乏任何透明度。通过从中国苹果应用商店删除藏文和其他许多应用程序,苹果阻碍了藏人获取信息和自由表达自己的能力,这是国际法下的一项基本人权。“ TibCERT(西藏计算机应急准备小组)的响应协调员Dorjee Phuntsok说道。 他们与GreatFire合作对被屏蔽的应用程序进行了分析。

   2019年1月,GreatFire推出了applecensorship.com。在那时,GreatFire联合创始人马丁约翰逊指出:“苹果公司在其透明度报告中没有分享有关应用商店审查的信息 - 该项目强制透明度。蒂姆库克可以随心所欲地说苹果在中国做了或没有做什么,但 applecensorship.com 提供了可以实际看到苹果实施审查原始数据的途径。

分析苹果在中国审查的iOS应用程序

有许多应用程序由藏人或为藏人制作,苹果正在审查中国区应用商店中的许多应用程序。了解某些应用程序被阻止的方式和原因以及这些决策背后的基本原理非常重要。为了解这一点,TibCERT(西藏应急准备小组)对在中国应用商店中被审查的藏文应用程序进行了分析。该研究使用关键字搜索藏文应用程序,然后使用GreatFire提供的应用程序审查平台。

TibCERT分析了119个以藏语为主题的iOS应用程序。使用“西藏”,“藏人”,“达赖喇嘛”,“佛教”,“藏传佛教”,等关键词搜索苹果应用商店时,可以找到下面列出的应用程序。这些应用程序分为五大类:“宗教或文化”,“媒体/政治”,“娱乐”,“工具”和“教育”。

星期四, 6月 06, 2019

重点关注苹果在中国审查实践的报告

最新的 数字版权企业责任指数排名 就公司和政府需要做些什么来提出建议,以改善全球互联网用户的人权保护。数字版权排名(RDR)旨在通过为公司尊重和保护用户权利制定全球标准和激励措施,以促进互联网上的言论自由和隐私权。

在他们的2019年责任指数中,RDR着眼于24家世界上最重要的互联网公司在言论自由和隐私方面的政策,并强调了那些尚需努力和已经取得改进的公司。 RDR指出:

透明度不足使私人政党,政府和公司本身更容易通过网络言论滥用权力,并规避责任。

特别是,该报告强调了苹果如何滥用其网络言论的权力,并在中国指出这一点。根据该报告,苹果公司在面对政府当局提出的要求时,并未披露其从App Store中删除内容的数据。

虽然[苹果]披露了有关政府限制帐户请求的数据,但它没有披露有关内容删除请求的数据,例如从苹果应用商店删除应用程序的请求。苹果公司对其影响言论自由的政策和做法讳莫如深,这让它的排名低于此类别的所有其他美国公司。

该报告为政府提出了明智而感性的建议。然而,这些建议还强调了与中国政府进行这些讨论是多么的困难。

RDR 建议政府要求公司的透明度并保持透明度。中国当局采取相反的做法 - 他们不希望在这些问题上保持透明度,因为它突显了他们不希望公众了解的信息。当局不希望公司透明,他们可能直接指示Apple不发布他们正删除的内容列表。

苹果可能真的认为他们必须遵守中国的法律条文。或者他们也可能愿意分享有关App Store中被审查内容的信息,但有碍于被中国当局束手束脚。苹果还可能会利用这种情况作为他们打击中国言论自由的掩护。无论Apple的真实动机如何,透明度都能够并已经被强加给他们。

在2019年1月,GreatFire发布了 applecensorship.com。该项目监控Apple在公司运营的每个市场中对App Store的审查。应用程序的可用性测试由网站访问者进行。截至今天,用户生成的测试已经确定了 超过1100个 在中国应用商店中不可用的应用。在中国受审查的应用程序包括那些涉及宗教,新闻,隐私和翻墙的应用程序。通过审查有助于规避审查限制的应用程序,苹果确实的让中国人无法自由访问信息。苹果的中国用户或许认为他们买到的是一流的设备 - 但可以肯定的是,该公司将他们视为二等信息公民。

RDR建议苹果对言论自由的限制保持透明,并公布有关公司因政府要求而删除内容所采取行动的数据。我们邀苹果审核我们在 applecensorship.com 上公开发布的数据,并根据中国当局的指示突出显示已删除应用的情况。

星期四, 11月 30, 2017

关于在中国苹果商店被审查的那674个软件

苹果对中国区的审查行为敞开了大门 - 但这似乎只是冰山一角。
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