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China blocks iTunes, users claim

Block linked to all-star Tibet album released earlier this month

August 21, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Users of Apple Inc.'s iTunes who live in China have been blocked from accessing the online music store, according to reports posted on Apple's Web site.

Although some Chinese customers have speculated that authorities have barred the site because it recently started selling "Songs for Tibet," a compilation featuring musicians such as Sting and Alanis Morissette, an Apple spokesman in the U.S. declined to comment. A company spokeswoman in Beijing, however, told the Reuters news service that the company was aware of the problem but did not provide any additional information.

Although neither provided an explanation for the block, copies of messages from Apple's technical support representatives posted on Apple's site said that the company has not barred Chinese users from reaching iTunes. But the store is being blocked in some parts of the country, giving credence to claims that the Great Firewall of China -- the name given for the government's site -- and content-blocking efforts are keeping users from accessing iTunes.

The first messages about the glitch appeared on the iTunes support forum Monday; the volume picked up on Tuesday, and messages continued to be added today. Users reported receiving an error message when attempting to reach iTunes: "iTunes could not connect to the iTunes store. An unknown error occurred.(-4) Make sure your network connection is active and try again."

Users said they were unable to reach the U.S. iTunes store and other iTunes, including Australia's, from China. Apple does not have a Chinese iTunes. The company opened its first Chinese retail store in Beijing last month.

"I am in Shanghai and the same thing here," said a user identified as "jenjen2008" on Monday. "Downloaded John Stewart on Monday morning and nothing since then. It is an immediate connection error and the rest of the Internet is working fine (as fine as it ever does here)."

Several users posted copies of what they said were messages from Apple support, which they had contacted when they were unable to access iTunes.

"ITunes is not being blocked in China from our end," one Apple tech support representative told the same jenjen 2008, "but access to the iTunes Store IS restricted in some areas in China."

The rep reminded jenjen2008 that Apple doesn't support users trying to access an iTunes store outside of their area. "Please also note though that accessing the U.S. iTunes Store outside of the geographic region of the United States is not supported, and that attempting to access it while in China is at your own risk," the rep continued.

Other users noted that although connection issues with iTunes are not unknown, they rarely last for long. "There are occasionally these kinds of connections issues, but they usually resolve themselves in 24 hours," argued someone tagged as "foleadu" on a support forum thread. "The fact that this one has continued for a couple of days makes me suspect, like others have said, that China is 'blocking' the iTunes store."

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