By Matt Peckham | Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:04 am
The tension’s definitely ratcheting up as Google and China trade accusations and denials over who’s responsible for weeks of sluggish Gmail service.
Google recently claimed no foul and blamed China for turning the country’s version of Gmail into a slideshow. The company then took it one further, suggesting the slowdown was “a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail” (though Google didn’t offer technical evidence to illustrate the problem).
As the slowdown continues to morph into an “all but” shutdown, it’s China’s turn to deny. Beijing officially rejected Google’s claims yesterday, its Foreign Ministry spokesperson calling the accusations “unacceptable” at a routine news conference, though that’s all she said.
The Guardian now reports that the Chinese ministry of commerce as well as the ministry of industry and information technology aren’t responding to faxed questions. Government officials haven’t so much as acknowledged there’s a problem, and Beijing appears to have nothing further to say on the matter.
Some speculate China’s apparent Internet clampdown stems from anonymous calls for a “jasmine revolution” to parallel recent Middle East uprisings. If true, it seems Beijing believes it can mitigate or outright thwart online-coordinated dissent by holding a finger over the information spigot, while pointing another at Google.
It certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. China already has a troubled history with Google, not to mention the online community at large. In 2005, the Guardian reported China’s Internet Police Force numbered upwards of 30,000. How those 30,000 manage to preside over the Internet activities of some 250 million Chinese Internet-connected is anyone’s guess, but technology called “the Great Firewall” (the “Golden Shield Project” in China) routinely blocks the IP addresses of anything Beijing frowns on, from consumer sites like YouTube and Blogspot to news sources like BBC News and Voice of America.
The idea that China’s citizenry might some day knock the legs out from under Beijing’s techno-oligarchy isn’t unthinkable. While China’s certainly shown the world it’s possible to regulate an inherently anarchical system (the Internet), short of full-scale military rule, its grip has an inevitable expiry date. If Google’s allegations about Beijing’s deceit are true, let’s hope the rest of the populace moves us closer to it.