Google says Gmail problems designed by Chinese government

Users in China have reported access problems with Gmail for weeks now

China is blocking Gmail in the country with methods that make it look as if the access problems lie with Google, said the search engine giant on Monday.

In the last several weeks, Internet users in China have reported greater difficulty with visiting the Gmail site, posting on microblogs that the email service is either slow or inaccessible.

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Google said the Chinese government is responsible for the access problems.

"There is no technical issue on our side. We have checked extensively," said a Google spokesperson. "This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail."

The recent Gmail access problems have not qualified as significant interruptions, according to Google's online traffic report. This is most likely because the blockages are intermittent and are less thorough.

The blocking of Gmail coincides with China's recent efforts to suppress any mention relating to the "Jasmine Revolution", which began as an online call urging the Chinese people to protest the government.

While China regularly blocks politically sensitive content, experts say government censors have further tightened their grip on the Web in the last few weeks. The word "Jasmine" and terms relating to the anti-government protests in the Middle East can no longer be searched for on the country's microblogs. China has also responded by arresting activists, harassing foreign journalists and deploying large police forces to prevent unrest.

Gmail has seen problems from China in the past. Google said that in Dec. 2009, a cyber attack originating from China tried to infiltrate and access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

The current access problems with Gmail add to a growing list of Google products that have been blocked or partly blocked in the country. Users can no longer access YouTube or Blogger. Google Maps could also face penalties from the Chinese government if the search engine fails to apply for the necessary licenses by this July.

Analysts say Google's refusal to comply with Chinese censorship laws has been one major reason why the company has struggled in the country. Google currently has a 19.6 percent share of the search engine market, falling from 35 percent at the end of 2009, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. In the past, Google has said the Internet censorship practiced by China is a trade barrier.

Other social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are also blocked. As a result, users in the country have migrated toward the domestic social media sites that observe China's strict censorship rules.

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