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Gmail, respect jurisdiction or accept blockage

Over the past week and a half, I have been accessing my Gmail account from within China at various places.  Since Google insinuated the service being interfered with by the Chinese government, I thought I report first hand what I experienced.  While in Guilin, I only could connect couple of times in hotels without resorting to using VPN.  The Gmail’s login doesn’t show up or following entering username and password, the connection times out.  While at a relative’s home, access to Gmail was without any problem. While in Beijing, I have not had any problems either.

While a user of Gmail, I still honestly feel the Chinese government should block Gmail if Google does not respect China’s jurisdiction over users from within Chinese borders when using the service. Let’s say, there are two terrorists plotting to blow up some building or bridge in China. They used Gmail to coordinate their attack. If Google does not comply with Chinese courts in turning over information on these terrorists, then I think it is very appropriate for the Chinese government to block the service from within China altogether.

Some might argue that gives Baidu and other services too much of a leg up in competition in China. It certainly does, but I feel that would be what a arrogant Google deserves. After-all, if MSN and Yahoo are willing to comply with Chinese laws, why should Google be the exception?

The U.S. media is making this out to be a censorship issue or as if China is somehow elevating Google to some entity powerful enough like a nation state. That is preposterous. China does what it needs to do and the U.S. media and Google could make all the noise it wants. Life will move on.

I personally give Google 50% chance of going AOL in 20 years. That is what happens to arrogant companies.

Of course, this idea of Chinese government interference in Gmail is all speculation. Google hasn’t shared any fact on their insinuation. The U.S. media haven’t shown any fact. We are all speculating.

The bottom line for me though, respect jurisdiction or accept blockage (if ultimately comes to that). There have been many ‘giants’ that came and went. Google is just another company trying to make few bucks.

Categories: Opinion, technology Tags: ,
  1. xian
    April 12th, 2011 at 21:39 | #1

    Ironically Americans protest their privacy is being violated when the US Gov. tries to read Google’s mail for counter-terrorism purposes…

    There’s nothing wrong with blocking Google in order to favor domestic companies though, protectionism is fair play when it comes to economic competition.

  2. mz
    April 12th, 2011 at 21:43 | #2

    Though I agree that Google should comply with X country’s wishes while it is hosting a service there, I also don’t see it as something that will likely die out as there has been little that has become so engrained into our lives that it is almost a necessity in society.

  3. Wukailong
    April 12th, 2011 at 22:20 | #3

    I would be more accepting of blocking if it was actually done publicly, with a note describing that this site is blocked and why. That is the way it’s done in Saudi Arabia, for example. The way it is done now with various methods that just leave the user in the dark is not a good idea.

    Also, exactly what jurisdiction is broken in China by sites that are blocked?

    Finally, if Gmail is blocked because terrorists use it for planning to blow up a bridge or a building, I think we have to ask ourselves what other things ought to be blocked as well. The Internet is, after all, a great place for all sorts of shady deals. How far should we go? Why not use a white list instead of a black list and just allow a small group of websites?

  4. April 13th, 2011 at 03:49 | #4

    1) What exactly is Gmail doing disrespectful of the jurisdiction?

    2) The government need a clearly defined set of standards for a company to comply to.

    3) Google did cooperate with the government on censorship. Why did they stop?

    4) (Just a note to other readers.) Your personal anecdote may not represent the average Internet expreience in China.

  5. April 13th, 2011 at 05:26 | #5

    (1) See your own (3) as self-evident of Google’s violation.

    (2) See your own (3) as self-evident that Google understood clearly the government’s standards, (and chose not to comply).

    (3) No profits to cooperate. But that’s google’s choice, they need to live with the consequences.

    (4) I know Google, I know the 1st employee of Google. My personal anecdote of Google goes back to its beginning, when my buddy was working out of the Google Founders’ garage for no pay.

    Civil disobedience is a choice, it’s not a free pass. If you want to NOT do business in China, then accept the consequences.

  6. April 13th, 2011 at 05:38 | #6

    WKL,

    Public take down notices depend on whether there is enough time to do it.

    Even in US, some take downs don’t give reasons, for example, you don’t know if your video that got pulled from Google/Youtube was due to a government “request” or due to Youtube’s own “self-censorship”.

    Even in US, there is such a thing as a “secret” warrant, where they pull your information from the ISP, (or remove it), and the ISP by law cannot tell the public why (Because the information by most ISP’s use agreement are property of the ISP, not the user’s). Google has similar use agreements, where the information you put on their server automatically become their property.

    This is why Emails are generally not private, because they are typically properties of the ISP, once placed into the ISP’s servers.

    “Jurisdiction” here simply refers to the Chinese laws that require internet companies to block some sites or information.

    A “White list” may not be too far away in the future, since China is now implementing ID requirements for all internet users in China.

    Internet is too much of a Wild West now. Even US and Europe are trying to clamp down on what can or cannot be done on Internet.

  7. pug_ster
    April 13th, 2011 at 07:35 | #7

    Pssh, if the US government simply don’t like you, they can ask google for access to your gmail account and they would probably do it in a blink of an eye. Actually, I have read that the FBI already have some backdoor access so they don’t even have to ask. Google would probably comply to other Western government’s as well as any other government that is friendly with the US requests also. Google would not be so happy to comply with China. Unfortunately, this is an information war between the China and the West, and people who are using gmail for legitimate purposes are just collateral damage.

  8. xian
    April 13th, 2011 at 10:16 | #8

    I think the difference between internet policing is the reasoning behind it, or at least the reason perceived. Americans believe emails are tapped and content censored because of copyright, decency laws, anti-crime measures etc, whereas they believe China does the same but for political purposes. In the minds of many Chinese, the perspective is reversed. Perhaps China does censor more frequently on political grounds, but I think for both countries the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  9. Charles Liu
    April 13th, 2011 at 10:51 | #9

    The same broad stroke of “counter terrorism” is acceptable rationale for Google to open a backdoor for FBI/CIA/NSA, but for Chinese government this doesn’t apply?

    Come one Chu, that position smacks of hypocrisy.

  10. colin
    April 13th, 2011 at 14:46 | #10

    AT&T is mirroring all internet traffic in their san francisco office to a separate storage area for the NSA and other arms of the US government to peruse at their leisure.

  11. jxie
    April 14th, 2011 at 00:36 | #11

    Colin, that’s not feasible techically. Forget for a second the traffic passing through a major exchange point such as Mae-West is only a portion of the total Internet traffic, the traffic quantity we are talking about is exabytes per year. Technically there isn’t enough disk space one can put together to store those exabytes of data, let alone the computing power to index them and potentially query them.

    On the other hand, for a short duration (weeks), one can potentially capture a pre-defined set of data and make sense out of it later, assuming all major ISPs are in it. For example, all email traffic from Yemen.

  12. pug_ster
    April 14th, 2011 at 03:29 | #12

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/homefront/interviews/klein.html

    I don’t think they actually store the data (at least exacbytes, but technically possible if you store petabytes now given the cost of storage went down), take the data and analyze it. So if you make a phone call to China, your phone call can be monitored by the NSA because the VOIP traffic might go thru here. It’s not science fiction.

  13. Wukailong
    April 14th, 2011 at 07:19 | #13

    There are systems in existence that analyzes traffic by keywords, stores the information that gets a hit, and removes the rest. Then these records are erased after a certain amount of time. This of course is only possible when you’re dealing with plaintext. I don’t know how VOIP sniffing works.

  14. jxie
    April 14th, 2011 at 08:38 | #14

    pug_ster, thanks for the link. After 911 and the Patriot Act, I have no doubt that somebody in the government would want to take a peek at the Internet traffic.

    The total Internet traffic throughput in the US is in the range of 100s of EBs per year. For a 100 EB storage system, even if you use 1 TB disks with no redundancy, that’s 100 million of disks. If the physical side of housing and spinning that many disks, and connecting them to computer hosts is daunting, it’s nothing compared to the hardware/software architectural side of actually utilizing all these disks and making intelligence out of them.

    Basically if NSA or any government outfits have the traffic duped and passed through them into some bit buckets, they will have to make a real-time decision, e.g. keyword matching, IP range matching, and take spoons out of those bit buckets, so to speak, and then the bit buckets will go to /dev/null.

  15. April 18th, 2011 at 06:19 | #15

    India bans Nokia push mail service, Nokia complying by installing facilities to allow Indian government monitoring.

    http://www.techtree.com/India/News/Indian_Govt_Debars_Nokias_Push_Email_Service/551-115106-893.html

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