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China's Foursquare block tied to Tiananmen Square

The mobile geolocation service isn't sure whether block is permanent, or temporary because people were using it to mark the 21st anniversary of the massacre.

Access to Foursquare's "check-in" app has been blocked in China, the mobile networking service confirmed with CNET on Friday.

Rumors began to circle about the ban early Friday when tweets and blog posts from Chinese Foursquare users indicated that they could not access the service.

Foursquare is still looking into the issue, co-founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai told CNET. Namely, they aren't sure whether this will be a permanent block or temporary. But it appears to be linked to the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the 1989 incident in which the Chinese military attacked and arrested thousands of pro-democracy protesters. Chinese users of Foursquare appear to have been using the service as a protest vehicle.

"There were a lot of people checking into Tiananmen Square and posting tips/protest messages to the venue," Selvadurai told CNET via e-mail, speculating that this is what led Chinese authorities to block Foursquare's servers and IP addresses on both the Web and its various mobile apps. He said that Foursquare is not yet sure how this has been done or precisely what geographic region is covered.

Last year, around the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, China cracked down on sites like Flickr, Twitter, Blogger, and WordPress in an attempt to keep word from spreading about it.

U.S.-based search and social media companies have a long and complicated history of dealing with the Chinese government and its laws pertaining to the banning of Web content that it deems objectionable. Earlier this year, following a cyberattack believed to have been carried out by hackers affiliated with the Chinese government, Google closed up shop in China and redirected users of its previously censored Google.cn site to unrestricted servers in the special administrative region of Hong Kong. Previously, Google had voluntarily censored its Chinese search engine out of the belief that limited access to information was better than none at all.

Intermittent bans on social media services like Facebook and Twitter are not uncommon in China. And during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the country blocked access to Apple's iTunes Store over the distribution of an album supporting Tibetan freedom.

Foursquare is small, with only about 1.5 million users in contrast to Facebook's nearly 500 million. But it's growing fast, particularly among young urban users, and it's been buoyed by months of breathless hype in the press--more than enough for China's censors to take notice.