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Google's China availability page not yet reflecting blocks on Hong Kong site

March 23, 2010 | 10:01 am

Google-china
A screenshot of Google's China availability page. Web and image search, along with Google's news and email services, were marked as having "No issues" as of Wednesday in China.  Other services  like YouTube and Blogger had already been unavailable for some time.
When Google turned off its Chinese search engine Monday and rerouted Mainland users to an uncensored version in Hong Kong, the company girded itself for the possibility that Chinese officials might restrict access to the Hong Kong site -- they even posted a page that showed whether Google services were available in China.

When that status page was posted, a set of green checks indicated there were "No Issues" for Google's Web, Image and News searches.  But as reports flowed in that China's Great Firewall was already preventing users there from opening many Web pages that dealt with sensitive topics, it was quickly unclear whether Google's definition of "No Issues" was in line with that of users.

Earlier Tuesday, users searching for restricted subjects like the Falun Gong and Tiananmen Square were able to see pages of Google results, but unable to open individual pages by clicking on those results.  But by Tuesday evening, searches for some sensitive subjects were blocked outright, returning an error message. That indicated Chinese authorities had caught up, and were now censoring Google searches themselves.

Still, Google's China status page, called "Mainland China service availability," showed that there were "No Issues."  The company said it would update the page daily, but as of this writing, it is Wednesday in China and the status page still shows a date of Sunday.

Google explained that the status page was not meant to reflect individual instances of censorship -- where, for example, the Great Firewall prevented a user from opening a page on Falun Gong if they clicked on it from Google's search results (in that case, the censoring lies with the Chinese government, not Google). 

But now that Chinese authorities appear to be blocking pages of Google results, the question is when and whether Google will reclassify the availability of its services there.

-- David Sarno

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