April 18, 2024

More on China's Blocking of Google

Several readers responded to my previous entry on China’s censoring of Google.

Jeremy Leader pointed out that Google offers a cached copy of any page on the Web. Google’s cache would allow easy access to any blocked page, so any effective blocker must block Google.

Seth Finkelstein points to his previous discussion of overblocking due to the “need” to censor caches, search engines, and the like. The court decision striking down CIPA (the law that required libraries to use blocking software) even mentions this:

As noted above, filtering companies often block loophole sites, such as caches, anonymizers, and translation sites. The practice of blocking loophole sites necessarily results in a significant amount of overblocking, because the vast majority of the pages that are cached, for example, do not contain content that would match a filtering company’s category definitions. Filters that do not block these loophole sites, however, may enable users to access any URL on the Web via the loophole site, thus resulting in substantial underblocking.

Given the proliferation of indices, search engines, archives, translators, summarizers, and other meta-level tools on the web, the censor’s job is getting harder and harder. The people creating such sites surely outnumber the censors many times over.

Another person explained to me how to defeat China’s blocking, using simple methods well within the capability of an average Web user. The trick has two parts. The first part is to configure your browser to use any ordinary Web proxy outside China. The second part is just as easy, but I’d rather not say what it is. This method allowed access to any blocked site from within China, as of a few months ago.

The Inflationary Theory of Censorship

China’s recent decision to block its citizens’ access to Google has been much discussed. Google does not itself offer “subversive” content, so the goal must have been to keep people from finding “subversive” content from elsewhere.

This illustrates a general truth about attempts to censor general-purpose communication technologies like the Net. These technologies are so flexible that no limited censorship campaign can work. People will find a way to get the information through. Assuming the censors don’t just give up, their only recourse is to censor more material, to protect the flanks of their previous censorship attempts.

But expanding the censorship just invites the same kind of countermeasure, and still more censorship becomes “necessary.” The cycle repeats itself indefinitely. On-line censorship must keep expanding, or it will die.