Download a copy of Google Earth, be amazed. Try to find a country or region on earth that the application / database doesn’t know about. Give up? Now try “Tibet.” Oops, no results. Zip, nada, squat.
Debate continues on whether Tibet is a country, but let’s leave the political debate about country-hood aside. Country or no, Tibet is still a region that appears on maps. But not on Google maps.
I was finally able to find a Keyhole .kmz file for Tibet, which enabled Google Earth to “see” the country / region.
When we think about Google being in bed with the Chinese government and blocking access to information about Tibet, we know it’s bad, but we also assume the censorship applies only to Google users in China. Here we have an example of Google’s complicity affecting searches conducted from anywhere in the world.
Google is probably the single most-used information source in the world, and that source has disappeared an entire region / culture / people. Tibet was an autonomous kingdom until it was forcibly invaded and occupied by China. Since that time, the Chinese have destroyed hundreds of Buddhist temples, killed around a million citizens, and forces Tibetan children to speak Chinese in schools (see freetibet.org for info). Now the world’s most important information source won’t even show you where Tibet is on a map. The “do no evil” monolith has disappeared an entire country — not just for Chinese citizens, but for everyone — for profit.
The China fun continues this week, as one of the sites we host at the J-School, China Digital Times, found itself inaccessible from within China in early March. Today we learned that the censors have blocked not just the domain, but the entire IP address of the server. Meaning that the main J-School web site, as well as other domains we host, are all inaccessible from within China as well. I’m currently in the process of sorting out the mess, moving CDT and the other sites onto independent IPs to future-proof against this kind of side-effect.
In the process of trying to explore the extent of the damage, I found that online blockage testing tools such as Harvard’s were nearly worthless, since they themselves were being foiled by Chinese counter measures.
Switching the default search engine in Firefox from Google to Yahoo only took a second. It’s a bit trickier to do in Safari. If I used Explorer + Google Toolbar, I’d be ripping it out right now.
Here is a study examining the impact the latest update to the Great Firewall had on the reliability of VPNs at bypassing local restrictions and protecting users against wiretapping by the Chinese government.