The New York Times vs. The Chinese Authorities

Quietly, the New York Times is helping to enable the end of censorship in China, and preparing to take advantage of a free and open media in a post-censorship China. In this regard, they are unique amongst their peers - no other media organization has shown anywhere near the same level of determination. Some might call it stubbornness.

The blocking of the New York Times in 2012 fits well within the pattern of how foreign news organizations get treated in China (see a short history below this story). Soon after the launch of the Chinese New York Times in the summer of 2012, the Times published a story (in English and Chinese) about the personal wealth of Wen Jiabao and quickly found both of their websites blocked.

It is not hard to imagine that in October, 2012, after their sites were blocked, the senior management at the New York Times thought about cutting their losses early and pulling the plug on their Chinese language news effort. Even when the New York Times found that their journalist visas were not being renewed, this hardly affected editorial or the business. The Times actually strengthened their team, hiring journalists who were responsible for some firewall-blocking worthy stories of their own.

The Times recently launched a new Chinese-language product - in print. In May, 2015, they released a publication in Hong Kong and Macau, in simplified Chinese, targeting mainland visitors. The publication includes uncensored news and helps to build their brand with affluent Chinese travelers.

On the launch of this publication, Craig Smith, Managing Director for the New York Times in China, said:

Our Chinese audience has grown enormously through cn.NYTimes.com and we are excited to complement our digital offering by bringing high-quality coverage of world affairs, business and culture to our Chinese readers in print.

The Times have also exploited holes in the great firewall to distribute their uncensored content inside China. In March, 2013 both the New York Times and GreatFire.org news sharing pages on GitHub were attacked by the Chinese authorities.

Most recently, GreatFire has worked with the New York Times to integrate our technique of collateral freedom behind the New York Times Android application. Once downloaded, news stories are constantly updated. No information is censored and because of our advanced circumvention technology, the authorities have not found a way to block the app, or any of our other apps (like FreeBrowser). The authorities back off from taking such action because they understand that this manoeuvre would have considerable negative economic consequences.

Most critical to the Times success in China, senior management have rarely swayed in the face of pressure. Current CEO Mark Thompson said in 2013:

My view is that the New York Times should be seeking to report the entire world objectively and fairly but pursuing stories of public interest wherever we find them - that includes China.

We believe not just for ourselves but for all news outlets. It is in all countries' interest to allow journalists to do their work freely.

In 2012, after the websites were blocked, a Times spokesperson said:

China is an increasingly open society, with increasingly sophisticated media, and the response to our site suggests that the Times can play an important role in the government’s efforts to raise the quality of journalism available to the Chinese people.

Compared to other news outlets or media companies, it is likely that the Times has benefitted from a consistent approach to doing business in China. That approach has been relatively simple. They have have refused to compromise on their principles and have delivered the same message to the Chinese authorities - that by not allowing their content to be accessible by all Chinese the authorities are doing themselves a disservice.

What have the authorities done in response? Seemingly, the authorities have loosened their controls. Late last year Times journalists started to receive visas to work in China again. Could the New York Times be setting the best path forward for news organizations in China?

Disclaimer: GreatFire.org works with The New York Times to deliver uncensored content to audiences in China.

-----

A very short history of news censorship in China

Post-opening up and before the rise of the internet, foreigners who wished to publish in China would have to obtain a local license. Obtaining a license meant paying big bucks, agreeing to self-censorship, losing control over your brand, having no say in day-to-day operations, or a combination of these factors.

The opening of the internet in China presented new opportunities and with it new challenges. Most foreign news organizations were trying to figure out business models at home. A few tried to make inroads into China by publishing news in Chinese. But then the great firewall rose and since then it has simply been a matter of just adding news organizations to the list of blocked websites.

There are always exceptions and anomalies, but the following guidelines apply for the vast majority of foreign news websites in China.

The question of being blocked or not blocked is relatively straightforward. Organizations who do not agree to self-censor their content get blocked. Even organizations that self-censor may remain blocked. Bloomberg falls into this category. If your organization is involved in any major investigative journalism piece that involves the Chinese leadership, your site will get blocked (see ICIJ). It is not just English and Chinese language news sources that get blocked. French (Le Monde), Spanish (El Pais) and content in other languages will also be blocked.

Organizations that have paywalls in place may not be blocked (FT). Those whose websites are unencrypted (http rather than https) may find that the home page is accessible while certain negative stories are not (FT Chinese). But even the authorities are tiring of this approach and are more likely to block entire sites rather than bother with blocking selective stories.

Foreign news organizations that are producing content in Chinese will likely see both their Chinese and English language websites blocked (WSJ, SCMP). Almost all major overseas Chinese language news websites are blocked in China (Boxun, Duowei).

 

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星期二, 5月 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

星期一, 12月 12, 2016

面对中国,Google 还打算终结网络审查吗?

三年前,施密特宣布谷歌将在十年内终结网络审查。当时我在卫报发表文章,批评谷歌的时程太长,并指出他们其实有可能在十天内达成目标。

星期四, 11月 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

星期二, 7月 05, 2016

GreatFire.org 现在开始测试VPN在中国的速度和稳定性

在中国有一个普遍观念,如果你有一个可以使用的VPN,那么你应该保持沉默。就信息自由而言,这种观念的问题在于获取知识竟成了一种秘密。今天,我们推出一个项目,希望能够摧毁这种模型。

我们最新的网站,翻墙中心,目的在于实时提供那些能够在中国使用的翻墙方案的信息和数据。在2011年以来我们就已经开始收集在中国被屏蔽的网站,现在我们也将增加那些可用的VPN和其他翻墙工具。

我们发布翻墙中心主要有四个目的。

我们的首要目标是助长使用翻墙工具的国人的数量。通过分享我们这些工具的信息和数据,我们希望对更广泛的受众展示那些工具时可以使用的。

我们的第二个目标是通过带来工具性能的透明化来提升中国用户的翻墙体验。我们将会测试工具的速度(流行网站的加载速度)和稳定性(流行网站加载成功的程度)。

我们开发速度测试的目的是要真实反映用户的体验。当用户在网站测速时,浏览器在后台会从10个世界上最流行的网站上下载一些资源文件。根据Alexa排名,这些网站分别是Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, QQ, Twitter and Microsoft Live。速度的结果是简单的计算下载文件文件的大小和下载所需的时间。我们同样也会验证下载的文件是否完整。如果文件的内容是错误的或者在40秒内无法完成下载,我们会标记为失败。这个数据被我们用来生成另一个重要指标-稳定性。

其他的速度测试工具仅仅是通过发送数据到它们自己的服务器来测量上传和下载的速度。这种数据无法反应用户的体验,因为正常的浏览器通常会频繁的发送一系列的请求(而不是上传或下载一个大文件)到许多的服务器,而不止是一个。

我们的第二个指标 - 稳定性 - 是其他的服务通常不会测试的。一个健康的互联网连接应该达到100%的稳定性,除非有人在测试中把网线拔了。但是在中国使用翻墙工具却不是这样。任何时候连接都有可能变得不稳定或十分缓慢。根据请求的大小,最终的地点和代理的方式,一些请求有可能会失败。比较服务的稳定性要比比较速度更加重要。

你可以测试任意的翻墙工具,列表之外的也可以。中国的VPN用户也可以测试他们的工具,测试结果也会添加到数据库中。这些数据都将会对所有人开放。实时的在中国测试是非常重要的,因为VPN随时都可能被封锁或解封。我们欢迎任何的关于测试过程的反馈。有技术能力的用户也可以通过审查我们的javascript代码来获悉我们的测试是如何工作的。

我们郑重的邀请翻墙工具的开发者们向我们提供测试过程的反馈。我们的第三个目标是帮助这些开发人员改进他们的产品,让更多的选择适用于中国的顾客。此外,越多的工具可以工作,就意味着中国当局对翻墙的打击就会越难。

中国的用户都知道,在过去的18个月中当局加紧了对翻墙工具的攻击。而翻墙中心将会吹响反击的号角。反其道而行之,让这不再成为秘密。我们要鼓励人们分享翻墙工具可以工作的信息。

我们的第四个目标就是要为GreatFire.org创造收益。目前GreatFire仍然依靠世界各地的热心人士和组织的捐款。我们希望减少对这些机构的依赖,并探寻GreatFire.org自给自足的道路。用户只需到翻墙中心就能购买任意一款我们目前在测试的付费工具。GreatFire将作为这些工具在中国的经销商,因此VPN供应商会给予我们每个零售的一部分。用户也不必在中国购买这些翻墙服务。

星期四, 2月 18, 2016

From the desk of Lu Wei: Apple, encryption and China

Lu Wei, Director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, offers some friendly help to FBI Director James Comey.
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