Google services blocked in China

Cut in Google services coincides with start of China's 18th Communist Party Congress, when new leadership is chosen

Google confirmed a dropoff in traffic to its sites in China on Friday, echoing an online report that the company's services are being blocked there.

All Google services are inaccessible in China, according to the Google Transparency Report , which monitors traffic to the company's sites around the globe.

The Web site Greatfire.org , which tracks Internet access in China, also reported that Google sites and searches were being blocked there.

"We've checked and there's nothing wrong on our end," wrote a Google spokeswoman in an email to Computerworld.

As of 5 p.m. ET Friday, (6 a.m. in Beijing) the blockage had been going on for 12 hours. Industry watchers will keep an eye on China to see what happens when its citizens wake up and attempt to go online to check their Gmail accounts or perform Google searches.

This latest blockage comes as China is ushering in a change in its government. Every 10 years, China holds its Communist Party Congress, which is focused on appointing new leadership. The 18th Party Congress began on Thursday.

Noting the start of the ruling party congress coincided with the blocking of Google, the Greatfire website said: "The fact that Google is blocked now is surely no coincidence. The big question is whether it will be unblocked again once the congress is over. We will closely monitor developments."

The blocking of Google is the latest in recent censorship activities by the government. Late last month, China blocked the New York Times Web site after the publication ran a story about Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's great family wealth.

The Bloomberg News site was blocked this past summer after it ran its own story about the wealth accumulated by Vice President Xi Jinping, who is poised to take over as president. The Chinese government also reportedly tried to shut down online discussion about the story.

It also not the first time that Google has tangled with the world's most populated country. Google has spent more than two years in talks with the Chinese government over its censorship policies.

The company began offering search services in China under the Google.cn domain in 2006. Google was censoring its search results there based on a mandate by the Chinese government. People within China's borders could try to do searches on the company's Google.com site but were sometimes blocked.

In 2009, China began blocking Google's popular YouTube site. It is still blocked there today.

Big trouble began between the Chinese government and Google in 2010, when the company claimed a cyberattack on its Gmail service came from within China and was aimed at obtaining information on Chinese human rights activists.

After making that accusation, Google announced that it would no longer abide China's mandate and would refuse to censor search results for multiple Google.cn sites, including Google Search, Google News and Google Images.

Soon after that announcement, Google moved the bulk of its Chinese services to a domain in Hong Kong. Over the past few years, there have been sporadic reports that the Chinese government had intermittently blocked its citizens from accessing Google services, including search and Gmail, under the Hong Kong domain.

However, there had never been an overwhelming blackout of services, and any blockages were not sustained.

This summer, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt made a prediction that the great firewall of China would fail.

"I believe that ultimately censorship fails," Schmidt said in an interview last week with Foreign Policy magazine. "China's the only government that's engaged in active, dynamic censorship. They're not shy about it."

In the interview, Schmidt predicted that once China's Internet censorship policies fall, an influx of free-flowing information could cause great political and social changes in the country.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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