Where’s Tibet?

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.

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20 Replies to “Where’s Tibet?”

  1. Switching the default search engine in Firefox from Google to Yahoo only took a second.

    Like Yahoo! is any better? They’re aiding the Chinese government in identifying dissenting bloggers, who are subsequently jailed.

    Maybe it’s time to vote for Ask with our feet.

    Or, if you want that toolbar, try A9. Yes, they’re partnered with GOOG, but it’s a step removed, at least.

  2. Here we have an example of Google’s complicity affecting searches conducted from anywhere in the world.

    Or, they have an error in their data or an innocent omission. I’m not saying any of the three options are correct, but you seem to be jumping to a conclusion.

    I’m not fan of Google working with China, but I also have mixed feelings about the whole thing… First off, I think a version of Google censored for the Chinese is a better option than No google at all. While I think that censorship is generally a bad thing, I’d rather have the Chinese have SOME access to Google, given that the censors can only be SOOO reponsive and data will leak around the censorship and to the Chinese people.

  3. mnep: Ulp. You’re right about Yahoo.

    Sean: No way in hell am I giving Google the benefit of the doubt on this. Logically, sure, it could be an innocent data ommission, but remember, Google Earth started as Keyhole many years ago. No way has this service been in play for all these years without Tibet (would be good to hear from any early Keyhole users about whether it used to be there but has been elided). And combined with the Google/China politics, the chances of this being innocent approach zero.

    Nate: Wikipedia is not a mapping service, nor is it an authority. Tibet is not a country, and so I would not expect to see it listed in a list of countries. As I said in my OP:

    let’s leave the political debate about country-hood aside. Country or no, Tibet is still a region that appears on maps.

    Think of another non-country region and see if it appears in Google Earth. I don’t have a list of such regions and so can’t do a search like that, but G.E. can find every little city and province I could think of. Leaving out Tibet has nothing to do with whether it’s a country or not. That’s not the issue.

    As for Kashmir, quoting various news posts, “India seems to have lost Kashmir to Pakistan on Google Earth.”

  4. After a good bit of flying around the globe, I’ll admit that this absence is a tad conspicuous. At the very least, the “Tibet Autonomous Region” should be labeled: it isn’t. Would be interesting to see if the Plus/Pro versions feature the same omission(s).

    I think it’s important to note that as shifty as Google seems occasionally, every second boatloads of packets travel to your computer over networks owned by infinitely shiftier corporations.

    You make sure yr sites can be viewed relatively flawlessly using Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer, don’t you?

  5. Very interesting video, but Google isn’t the only culprit. Yahoo and MSN both kneel down infront of Chinese government for the market.

  6. google plus does not have tibet….i searched Tibet, tibetan mountains, himalayans and himalaya mountains and no results were found….

  7. The question shoudl be- Why are Google conspiring to hide Tibet? Google earth does not even reveal Tibetan towns/cities, not even the capital! They’re doing it for money…Tibet was invaded and is forcibly occupied and supressed by the Chinese. Whose account of history do you beleive; the Chinese Governments or the Dalai Lamas?

  8. I started out looking for fantastic sites on google earth like the pyramids, eiffle tower, etc and thought Mt Everest would be cool. It wasnt found!!! Thats when I found er…didnt find the Himalayas/Tibet at all. Nor was the capital Lhasa shown. Even if its under Chinese rule, its still a city isnt it?
    Gee, I thought 1984 safely passed…guess not. Frightening. (hey! does Oprah know about this?)

  9. If you do actually take a close look around the Himilaya’s, (without flying there!) there is a snowy mountian called ‘unnamed’ which in it’s description cites Tibet and Western China….

  10. Anyone thought to ask Google why? I’m knocking off an email right after this. Perhaps if we all did and then followed that up with an email to the national papers we’d a least make Google squirm.
    No one can miss an entire country the size of Tibet by mistake.

  11. Excellent article. Made me really think about the crap our largest online “information provider” might be pulling, at least from a geospatial perspective. I’ve added a link at my OpenJUMP blog.

    The Sunburned Surveyor

  12. Cyprus is in a similar situation. It is labeled as “Cyprus” but there is absolutely no information shown beyond that.

  13. In the present-day world, Tibet is a hot topic for discussion. The discussion is generally centered around culture and Lamaism. Of curse, great attention is also paid to the scenery of enchanting beauty and the Tibetan people’s life and customs, which are of great importance to the development of Tibetan tourism. Tibet is fascinating. I have only seen Tibet in summer. The sky is a firmament, sapphire in color, deep and beautiful. If you like Tibet, please read the article.

  14. FT announces Free Tibet 2008 Television
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 5:43 PM

    Students for a Free Tibet has a new online video channel broadcasting from London throughout the worldwide uprising for Tibetan freedom during the Beijing Olympics: Free Tibet 2008 Television, or FT08.TV.

    With all the Olympic actions for Tibet taking place and particularly the incredible success of the ‘opening’ banner action outside Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium on Aug. 6th and subsequent media storm here in the UK, it took some time to get FT08.TV ready for prime time.

    But with the dedicated help of lots of people, SFT’s new video channel is up and running, and filled with lots of must-see on-demand content, including inspiring Tibet activist video-profiles, action reports, video-blogs, and more.

    We’re also airing a nightly Windhorse Report live from London with SFT leaders Tenzin Dorjee and Han Shan – a roundup of reports from Beijing and around the world during the Olympics, with breaking news about protests, call-in interviews with news-making activists, episodes of SFT-TV (the efforts of SFT’s global grassroots), and info and analysis about the situation on the ground in Tibet.

    There will be more and more compelling content to watch every day and we’ll be improving the channel/website as we go (after all, this is but one small facet of our Olympic efforts right now). But please come check it out: surf around the many videos on the channel, or watch the stream (click on “Streaming Now” in the upper left-hand corner). Last but not least, you’re invited to submit video… check out the channel for more on what we’re looking for.

    Please help spread the word about FT08.TV– join the facebook group, blog about it, embed the videos, spam your address book – and of course, keep watching.

    And don’t forget to visit SFT’s Olympics Campaign website: http://www.FreeTibet2008.org and SFT’s blog: http://www.blog.studentsforafreetibet.org for more news and analysis from the frontlines of the current global effort to make Olympic history for Tibet.

    Note: many thanks to Nathan Dorjee, Shannon Service, Andi Mignolo, Alex Fountain, Thupten Nyima, Kala Mendoza, and many others for helping to make FT08.TV happen at this critical time.
    5:32 PM

    Go on your facebook, etc to announce freetibet2008.tv/live. After go on “social justice” websites like “witness.org” (check it out) to announce ft08.tv. Also check out blogs discussing Tibet issue’s and post the official ft08 announcement.

    Check out recent news articles on Tibet. Usually they have “comment” sections, post the ft08 annoucement.

  15. Tibet should be on the map. People still inhabit the place! It is heartbreaking to think of what horrible things continue to happen to that sacred place.

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