GreatFire Q&A with Jimmy Wales on China Censorship

On May 19, 2015 both the encrypted and unencrypted Chinese-language versions of Wikipedia were blocked in China, ending what has been a complicated censorship situation for the world's most important online resource.

We have been critical of Wikipedia’s approach to censorship in the Middle Kingdom. In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, I lamented the loss of Wikipedia in China. The encyclopedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, who is also a staunch and public anti-censorship champion, reached out to us on Twitter. Jimmy agreed to publish our unedited exchange on the difficult nature of dealing with censorship in China.


Q: What is Wikipedia doing to combat censorship in China and elsewhere?

A: Wikipedia opposes censorship worldwide.  We have a very firm policy, never breached, to never cooperate with government censorship in any region of the world.  It is my view that access to knowledge - particularly factual encyclopedic knowledge of the kind put forth by Wikipedia - is a fundamental human right, a corollary to the right of freedom of speech.

I have personally worked to lobby governments around the world to change their policies.  And the Wikipedia community has at times successfully gone on strike, turning Wikipedia black for a day in various languages, in order to protest against censorship.


Q: In 2012, you threatened to make Wikipedia HTTPS by default in the UK in an effort to derail the Snooper's Charter. The Communications Bill would have allowed the UK authorities to track their citizens web and phone use. You suggested that this kind of activity was something you would expect in “Iran or China”. Why did you not threaten China in the same way?

A:  We didn’t just threaten - we did it.  Wikipedia is now HTTPS everywhere.  We have been 100% consistent in our principled approach to the opposition of spying on people using technology.  We have known for a long time that there was a problem with clear text transmission of Wikipedia, but like many people, we didn’t realize how bad the situation had gotten until Ed Snowden’s revelations about the actions of the NSA.

Moving to HTTPS everywhere was a technical challenge for a number of reasons.  We did it in stages, and we have always understood that it would likely lead to the complete block of Wikipedia in some countries.


Q: We believe that you would never voluntarily practice censorship. However, allowing the Chinese authorities to censor individual content is very similar to the strategy of some media organizations, i.e. they build a full version site and also a "clean" site which results in the full version getting blocked while the clean version remains accessible.

Whether this approach can be seen as technically self-censorship is up for debate, but the end result is that Chinese get a version that complies with the Chinese censorship standards. Was this the thinking behind the China strategy?

A:  We do not allow the Chinese authorities to censor individual content.  So this is a silly thing for you to say.

That is not up for debate - it's an entirely silly notion.  Someone who steadfastly refuses to comply with censorship and moves forward aggressively to combat censorship in every venue can hardly be said to be "self-censoring" when China is the one doing the censoring.

The thing you should understand is that such debate tactics are sad. Rather than championing and supporting people working hard - both publicly and behind the scenes - to champion freedom of information, such silly arguments merely make people inclined to just not listen to you.

One aspect of this whole thing that is different for us from just about any other website is that we are very strongly community-driven.  So when we think about what are the exact best tactics for us to advance freedom of speech in China, we think about and respect the views of our community members inside China. Ultimately we might be forced to overrule them, but they are passionate about the issue of free and open access to Wikipedia and for us to authoritatively bumble around based on pressure from activists *rather than* engage in a slow and thoughtful consultation with community members about the best way forward would be a mistake.


Q: So community members in China were against moving to an all-encrypted version of Wikipedia before because they feared that the site would get blocked? What is the reaction of the community now that the site is blocked?

A: In any community discussion, there will be voices on various sides of an issue.  The community has been very supportive of our move to HTTPS, even though the resulting current situation is that Wikipedia is likely to remain blocked for a long time.


Q: What do you think is the future of internet censorship in China? Do you think we will ever seen a loosening of restrictions or will things only continue to get worse?

A: It greatly depends on the world reaction to what is happening in China. If the western world stops turning a blind eye on censorship in China and invoke pressure on the Chinese authorities to allow more freedoms, things will change positively. This is one of the things I am thriving to achieve through the Jimmy Wales Foundation. We all must take responsibility and raise our voice for change.


Q: If you sat down with China’s cyber czar (Lu Wei, the head of the Cyberspace Administration of China) what would you say to him?

A: The same thing I have said to his predecessor’s and to similar authorities in other countries around the world: you are on the wrong side of history.

Actually, in China, because the usual excuse for censorship is that it promotes a harmonious society, I tend to lead with a discussion about how the censorship program leads to disharmony.  I want to push them to rethink their principles from scratch.


Q: If Lu Wei told you that he would not unblock Wikipedia unless you censor content or disable encryption by default, how would you respond?

A: We will never compromise. I'm more patient than they are.


Q: What would be your advice to a foreign internet firm dependent on user-generated content that is looking to enter the China market?

A: I am afraid that I wouldn’t have any specific advice, other than to warn them that it will be difficult.


Q: Which foreign firms are “doing it right” in China, in your opinion?

A: It’s not really appropriate for me to comment in detail.  In some cases I know privately what some companies are doing to help users defeat censorship, but if I talk about that, it will cause those efforts to fail.

But I also think that free speech activists should back off from tactics that involve naming and shaming people who are trying to do the right thing.  There are different strategies that may work at different times and for different companies.  Sometimes when companies say that the Chinese are better off by having access to their service, even if it is filtered, they are just being weak on human rights - but sometimes that argument can make sense.

If a company is in a complex situation of compromise and offers the defense that they are working to improve matters in China, then it is appropriate to ask them: how are you trying to improve matters?  Have you hired lobbyists to try to argue for changing the law, etc.?


Q: If you could turn back time, what would you change about Wikipedia’s approach to China, if anything?

A: I think our approach has been better than anyone’s.  I could say that I wish we had done X or Y differently - things haven’t always gone perfectly, and Wikipedia has been blocked for long stretches more than once - but it isn’t clear that if we went back and tried a different approach that it would have worked better.  History doesn’t work that way!

I am most proud that we have always been 100% uncompromising, and better than any other major website on these issues.




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星期一, 8月 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire Appmaker

GreatFire (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 (

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




“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。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 提供了可以实际看到苹果实施审查原始数据的途径。




星期四, 6月 06, 2019


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:


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。



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。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 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


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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A few matters to clear the air.

Jimmy Wales is not "Wikipedia's founder". The idea of a wiki encyclopedia was pushed on Wales by his employee, Dr. Larry Sanger. Sanger named it "Wikipedia", Sanger issued the first public call for participation on Wikipedia, and in the first months of operation Sanger's edits outnumbered those of Wales by more than 600%.

Next, Jimmy's claim about "a very firm policy, never breached, to never cooperate with government censorship in any region of the world" is bogus. According to, "The most irritating censorship [in the UAE] is likely to be the increasing number of Wikipedia pages that are blocked". Well, guess who just visited Dubai and pocketed a $500,000 prize from their government? Jimmy Wales. Sounds like that firm policy got breached a half a million times.

Lastly, Jimmy Wales says he "aggressively combats censorship in every venue". Well, except when he does the censorship himself, when the message is uncomfortable to his reputation. See the story in The Telegraph, entitled "Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales restricts discussion of Tony Blair friendship".

As The Register recently put it so eloquently about Jimmy Wales -- "How can you tell Jimbo is lying? His lips are moving".

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