Google services reported down in China

Some of those reports, which said nearly all of the Internet giant's services were blocked Thursday, turned out to be erroneous.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
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Editor's note: This story has been updated several times since it was originally published. See updates at the end of the post.

Several of Google's Web services in mainland China were reported as fully blocked on Thursday including Web search, YouTube, Ads, and Blogger. Those reports turned out to be incorrect due to misinformation from Google's Mainland China service availability chart. Other services, including Google Images, News, Docs, and Groups were also misreported as "partially blocked."

The news came just a week and a half after the Chinese government dubbed Google's moves toward complying with government regulations to be satisfactory. The week prior, Google was given the go-ahead to continue as an Internet content provider, with a renewal of its operating license.

According to the availability chart, the one still-functioning Google service was Gmail, which has been "fully or mostly accessible" since Google began tracking availability in late March. Prior to Thursday's blocks, Google's Web search, Image search, and News site had been up and running for days without issue. However, its Mobile product went from being partially blocked to fully blocked:

Google's Web search became fully blocked in Mainland China on Thursday. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Reports from Twitter users in China, including Kim Rathcke Jensen who is Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende's China correspondent say that Google is still "working fine over Wi-fi and 3G. Similar Tweets were logged from two other China-based Twitter users, confirming Google's statement that its products were still functioning.

Worth mentioning is that Google's availability chart considers full blockage 67 to 100 percent of its local servers in Mainland China, meaning that there could still be large amounts of the country that are not affected by such blocks or outages. The same goes for the partially blocked segment, which as of Thursday include Images, News, Docs and Groups. The partially blocked segment runs a fairly wide gamut at 10 to 66 percent blockage.

Google's political moves with China began in January when the company announced that it would no longer be censoring its search results to comply with local laws. The decision was made, in part because of Google being a target of an attack to get information about human rights activists. Google then announced in late March that it was planning to move its Chinese language search engine from China to Hong Kong, while making available only the products such as Music and Product Search that did not need censoring.

Update at 5:07 p.m. PDT: A Google spokesperson has issued a statement saying that the servers used for determining accessibility of the company's services "could overestimate the level of blockage," and that there could have been a block at the time when the last report had been aggregated:

Because of the way we measure accessibility in China, it's possible that our machines could overestimate the level of blockage. That seems to be what happened last night when there was a relatively small blockage. It appears now that users in China are accessing our properties normally.

Please also note that the dashboard is not a real-time tool.

Update at 2:51 p.m. PDT July 30: According to a report by The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), based on a conversation with Google CEO Eric Schmidt on Friday, Google is unsure whether the Chinese government was involved in Thursday's false alarm. Late Thursday, Google acknowledged that the blocking of its services had indeed happened at some point, though it did not provide any clarification of when, and for how long. The mainland China service availability reporting tool has since been updated with the same information.