Although the issues between Google and China are long-standing, the censorship battle has just been escalated. China has apparently taken another jab at the search engine giant, reportedly blocking users in that country from tapping into Google’s e-mail service through third-party e-mail clients.
The block comes as China works to limit or even ban access to the services of American Internet companies, which the Associated Press reported have grown popular among Chinese consumers hoping to avoid government monitoring of their Web usage.
This is not the first time China has apparently blocked Google services. At one point in 2010, Google’s search engine was not accessible across most of China. In 2011, Google accused China of Gmail blocking -- and China denied it. In 2013, anti-censorship advocate GreatFire.org called on Google’s Eric Schmidt to make good on his words to end government censorship in a decade. And here we are.
GreatFire.org told Reuters Gmail was still down Monday morning. "I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google's presence in China and even weaken its market overseas," said a member of GreatFire.org, who used a pseudonym. "Imagine if Gmail users might not get through to Chinese clients. Many people outside China might be forced to switch away from Gmail."
Or could it be a problem with Google’s servers? Google’s transparency report, which monitors real-time traffic to Google services, indicated a disruption in traffic to Gmail in China that started on Friday. “We have checked and there’s nothing wrong on our end," a Singapore-based Google spokesperson said in a published statement.
We caught up with Greg Sterling, vice president of Strategy & Insight at the Local Search Association, to get his reaction to the news. He told us this is no surprise.
“China will continue to block and censor sites it regards as a tool of dissidents or democracy. With Google in particular it has played a cat-and-mouse game for years,” Sterling said. “Long term, however, the Internet remains a threat to China's ideological control of its population.”
China Denies it All
But China denies blocking Gmail. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told Reuters she didn’t know anything about Gmail being blocked, and stressed that her nation’s government was committed to providing a good business environment for foreign investors.
"China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude towards foreign investors doing legitimate business here," she said. "We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China."
Google ended operations in China in 2010. At that time, Google had about 36 percent of China’s search revenue, according to Analysis International. And China had about 400 million users and the world's largest Internet population. Today, China has about 642 million Internet users, according to Internet Live Stats.