Google's About-face; Now It Says China Blocked Its Sites
Google late yesterday reversed its earlier statement and now says that the Chinese government is likely responsible for the difficulties some users in the country had accessing its sites early this week.
The Chinese government apparently slowed access to Google Web sites earlier this week, as the search giant last night backed off earlier statements that access to the site was blocked by changes Google made to the engine's search parameters. Google had disclosed early this week some users in China were unable to complete Google searches or had intermittent trouble accessing any of Google's Chinese-language sites. That disclosure prompted some immediate speculation that China was blocking access to the sites because of Google's decision to stop censoring search results in the country. The speculation abated yesterday afternoon when Google announced that it had accidentally caused the blockage itself. A spokeswoman told Computerworld then that access to the Chinese site, now run out of Hong Kong, was blocked because its programmers had added a series of letters -- gs_rfai -- to the Web addresses of Google search pages. The spokeswoman explained that "rfa" is associated with Radio Free Asia, a site that China has long blocked. Therefore, adding them automatically caused Google's site to be blocked there. Now, Google says that something in China's Internet filter, or "great firewall," caused the site to be blocked. "Having looked into this issue in more detail, it's clear we actually added this [gs_rfai] parameter a week ago. So whatever happened today to block Google.com.hk must have been as a result of a change in the great firewall," a Google spokesman wrote today in an email to Computerworld . "However, interestingly our search traffic in China is now back to normal, even though we have not made any changes at our end. We will continue to monitor what is going on, but for the time being this issue seems to be resolved." Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said it's possible that the intermittent blockage of Google sites earlier this week could indicate that China is either testing the waters or just trying to make it a bit difficult for users to access the sites.