[UPDATE 13 hours after posting: Chinese web users are waking up to find Google search, Gmail, and some other services (any many VPN hosts) restored. Obviously, long-blocked sites like YouTube are still a goner].
With something as finicky as the Great Firewall, it’s hard to ever be totally sure what’s going on, let alone why whatever’s happening is happening, but reports from net users across China are indicating that the country has blocked access to all Google services. We first came across this via the folks from Greatfire.org, who tweeted this:
google blocked and VPNs being targeted – one step closer to fully separating the Chinanet from the Internet
— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) November 9, 2012
Complaints from China based users on Twitter, Sina Weibo and even the commenters on our own site all seem to confirm the outage, although as it has rolled out over a Friday evening, many users likely won’t discover it until Saturday or even Monday.
Of course, everything could be back to normal by then. China’s government never officially announces that it has blocked something, and sometimes blocked sites return after a day or two. No one can be sure whether the blockage of Google services is a temporary bug, a temporary measure that will be undone when the 18th Party Congress ends, or the new status quo in China. But many China web users will be hoping it is not the latter, as the permanent blocking of Google services would leave Gmail users stranded and probably disrupt the operations of numerous businesses that have integrated Google products into their workflows. Moreover, switching on the VPN may not help, as many VPN users are reporting their VPNs are now offline, too.
On Sina Weibo, complaints about Gmail are rolling in quite quickly for such a late hour. “After the web gmail was blocked, now even Pop3/SMTP access isn’t working,” wrote one weibo user, “what can I do?” And indeed it looks like Chinese email clients are even blocking those forms of indirect access to Gmail accounts. “Fuck,” wrote another user, “did they just shut down the ports to the outside world? If I can’t get on Gmail, so be it, but why can’t QQ Mail get the mail from my Gmail account?”
Some users have suggested Google’s disappearance in China may be a DNS pollution issue, but Google has yet to announce anything on its blog, and access to Google services outside China has not been interrupted. The timing of this problem is also a bit suspicious, coming as it does at the beginning of the 18th Party Congress and occurring on a Friday evening (releasing bad news or making unpopular changes late on a Friday is a classic PR tactic, because no one reads the news on Friday evening and most people don’t read it on Saturday, either). But it is certainly possible that all of this is just a technical glitch that will be righted in the morning when China wakes up.
We recently reported that even before this latest blockage, many China based users had been experiencing unusual slowness or other problems with both VPNs and Google services, so it seems unlikely to me that the current reports that many VPNs and all Google services have been blocked are just coincidental. If you’re based in China, please let us know in the comments what you’re seeing, and whether VPNs and Google services are working for you.