YouTube unblocked in China, but could Google have cooperated?

Video-sharing Web site is again accessible from China, several sources report. Could it mean that Google itself--not Google China--is cooperating with Chinese censors?

William Long at Moonlight Blog reports that YouTube is again accessible from his connection in China.

I'm in Osaka, Japan, but a friend in Beijing, who prefers to be identified as "Hot Mama in Beijing," confirms.

Hot Mama adds an anecdote: Last Friday, YouTube was accessible but anything related to what we called T%%% to avoid filters would return a message to the effect of, "This content is not available in your country." Though it would be relatively easy for Chinese filters to replicate this result, this may indicate some effort on YouTube/Google's part. Mama reports that YouTube soon went completely dark, until just now.

Another glitch that emerged, which may suggest some sort of Google involvement, is that when Mama was sending Gmail messages, anything containing the nonredacted T%%%, or even its first three letters, would return an error message she'd never seen, stating that there was an error while sending.

This is by no means certain to be Google involvement. Transmitting sensitive keywords may have triggered a stall that Google recognized as trouble--something Hot Mama would not have usually seen in Beijing or New England. Similarly, YouTube may have correctly interpreted the block and redirected to a human readable error page rather than the usual "reset connection."

I asked Hot Mama, who also wanted me to mention she's a truck driver (seriously), to try to access her Gmail, which had been terribly slow, using an anti-censorship micro-tactic: Instead of accessing http://mail.google.com, go for https://mail.google.com. The result was stark, she said. Everything loaded much faster. This suggests that encrypted communications are not being seriously delayed but that language filters are engaging a larger portion of traffic than usual.

The YouTube messages are still vexing. Was YouTube cooperating or was this a very smart error message? To have a Google property that's not Google China itself cooperating with Chinese censorship would be unprecedented, to my knowledge.

About the author

    Formerly a journalist and consultant in Beijing, Graham Webster is a graduate student studying East Asia at Harvard University. At Sinobyte, he follows the effects of technology on Chinese politics, the environment, and global affairs. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network, and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.

     

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