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Category: Chinese Internet

Event: blocking Google: China’s thinking and behavior evolution

GFW (Great FireWall) is a technology, which China used it to shield  content transmission between overseas and China ,targeting on  content transmission not meeting the requirements of Chinese government, especially political contents.

Early on, in about September 2002, the main methods GFW shield sites were IP blocking and DNS poisoning. When you access a website which is on the blacklist of GFW, it will return a 404 error; later, your IP will then be unable to access oversea sites for 5-10 minutes as punishment.

But, soon, users discovered that the famous search engine Google has a feature, which is called “cached pages”. You can view the cache of web pages you want to visit through “cached page” link on Google. Although the original site can not be accessed, you can still view it through Google and bypass the GFW. Therefore, GFW then block the keywords used in the url of Google’s cached page, so that all of Google’s cached page can not be accessed.

Although you can not access the site’s content, visitors are still aware of the existence of this article.  Soon, GFW start to block search result pages for some special keywords on Google. For example, in a certain period, all surnames of Chinese top leaders are shielded. At that time, the General Secretary of Chinese Communist Party is Hu Jingtao, therefore,  if you searched any words associated with “Hu” in Google, such as carrots(spell as Hu Luo Bo in Chinese), the search page would be blocked. (As in English, if GFW take “hu” as a blocked search keywords, then you can not search “human”, “shut” etc. also)

Because China’s internet development has lagged behind, it did not have many IP addresses. Some colleges and universities only had one or a few IPs, all students accessed to foreign websites via the same IP. If anybody searched a keyword on GFW’s black list, then all students would lose connection to foreign websites and it would take a short period to recover.

To improve service, Google began to move servers to China and established Google.cn. Google once occupied about 30% of China’s search market share. But after Kai-fu Lee’s leave, Google’s relationship with the Chinese government deteriorated rapidly.

Since the Chinese government’s long time censoring of Google.cn’s contents.  There are also some occasional events happened.  In 2009, CCTV, the national TV station, attack Google for distribution of sexual contents. CCTV interviewed an accuser, who claim to be a student, but the student was then confirmed as a CCTV intern. In 2010, the government-backed Chinese hackers have attacked Gmail, try to steal some of the opposition’s mailbox. After that, Google decided to leave China.

Before Google’s exiting, GFW has also shielded Google.com, through deterioration (such as accessing one minute break 15 seconds), to reduce the amount of Google users. Shortly after the exit, China directly blocked all Google servers. In 2014, China also blocked gmail.

Other Google’s peripheral products, such as youtube, google plus, maps, drive, hangout, etc., have all been banned by China soon after being launched.

Event: Google was attacked by DNS cache poisoning in China

In September 2002, due to a movement called “clear harmful information” (“sensitive” information), internet users in mainland China(PRC) can not access Google.com. This situation lasted nearly two weeks. Sometimes, its domain name was hijacked to baidu.com (local search engine company in China). A lot of internet users in China had to abandon Google away.  Later Google.com has recovered, but it became very unstable in Chinese mainland.  Additionally, at that time, its function “Open Cached Page” already can not be accessed for a long time.

In October 18, 2007. The domain name Google.com was again hijacked to Baidu for almost one day.

The technology behind this is called “DNS cache poisoning”. It redirect the internet visitors to fake sites or invalid IPs. Although it is illegal in China mainland, both the PRC government and the Chinese internet service providers still use it. The PRC government uses it frequently as a punishment to disobedient websites abroad, while the Chinese Internet service providers use it to redirect visitors to their designated website for the purpose of providing their own ads.

In 2003, Baidu CEO Robin Li, in a speech at Peking University denied that Baidu played any role in this affair, when students asked about this issue.

why Google quit China

Author: Pu Rong (software engineer at Google Inc.)

Eric Schmidt (Google former CEO) talked about this matter in his book “How Google works”. I just took a look.

based on the content of the book, the timeline is:

  • In mid-2004, Google began to consider entering the Chinese market. At that time, China has Baidu and Yahoo which also provide web search service. Google had already found problems with China’s Internet: search requests from China to http: // Google.com sometimes suddenly fell to 0, and the user who had searched on Google will be directed to the Baidu search results page. So they thought to put forward a http: // Google.cn will give Chinese users a better experience.
  • Although Sergey opposed this idea (considering the experience of his family), Google quickly set up an office in Beijing, and also complied with  the requirements of the Chinese government to filter search results.
  • While filtering in accordance with the government’s request, Google was often asked to block some search results which clearly did not violate any existing law. Sometimes governmental officials would require blocking the content asked by other governmental officials, or just based on some rumors online. For example, when CCTV new building was just completed Google was required to block “building” as relevant search keywords.
  • 2006 and 2009, Google China’s traffic and revenue have increased steadily.
  • 2009.12, Google received extremely complex and purposeful attack. Sergey was leading the confrontation team and found that the attacks were from China, for the purpose of stealing Google’s source code and Gmail accounts data, including the ones belonged to human rights activists and political dissidents.
  • 2010.1.10  (Sunday) 16:00, Sergey held an emergency meeting decided that http: // Google.cn  would no longer filter search results, even though this might lead to  closure and the previous effort in China over the years would be wasted. The original standing of VIPs are Larry + Eric (do) vs Sergey (do not). But after this incident, Larry changed his mind.
  • The same day at 21:00 , the decision was made: reveal details of the hacking incident to the public, and .
  • 1. 11 (Monday), Eric and the Board discussed and made decision. 1.12 (Tuesday), the information went public.
  • After that Google and the Chinese government tried to negotiate, but no agreement was reached.
  • March, 2010 gradual closure of server has been initiated. The user was redirected to http: // Google.com.hk

If my conclusion is not very clear, the important things about this is listed again below:
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Before entering China:

Eric: Chinese users find it hard to access to . Therefore, we should start a website , and comply with Chinese government’s policy, which will give Chinese users a better experience.
Sergey: No. We should not have any relationship with the Chinese government.
Larry: Eric right.

So there came .

After

2009 December Event:
Sergey: (very firmly) in response to the attacks, we should stop filtering  (“Sergey forcefully made the argument that, as a response to the hacker attacks, we should stop complying with government censorship policies”)
Larry: I think Sergey is right. After all, we are not going to filter.
(after Sergey convinced Larry, the opinions of others, even Eric, did not matter anymore, since they had more than half the voting power between the two of them.)
Eric: I want to take a break.

All the contents of this article are from this book (the English version shall prevail), none of them are my personal views. Considering that I still receive Google’s salary, no matter what I say may not be considered neutral, so it is better to shut up.

The following are excerpts from the original book. The book has Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese translation. Since simplified Chinese version censored this chapter, you can buy other versions if you like

Decisions-The True Meaning of Consensus

In December 2009, we learned that Google was under attack from hackers. That we were under some form of attack was not unusual, in fact it happened practically every day. But this time was different. The sophistication of the attack was something we had not experienced before, and so was its objective. A criminal (or, more likely, team of criminals) had somehow found a way to access Google’s corporate servers. Up until then, most bad guys who attacked us were intent on disrupting Google’s services, to shut us down or make it harder for users to access us. This time the bad guys wanted our confidential information.

Sergey immediately started working on stopping the attack and figuring out who was perpetrating it and how. in a matter of hours he formed a team of the smartest computer security experts he could find, and gathered them in a nondescript building near our Mountain View headquarters. Over the next couple of weeks, the team set up systems that ultimately allowed them to watch the attacks as they were in progress, and what they found was chilling. The hackers were not just stealing intellectual property, but were also trying to access Gmail accounts, including those of human rights activists and the attacks originated from within the nation with the fastest-growing major economy in the world:.. China

It was about five and a half years earlier, in mid-2004, that we began to get involved in the Chinese market. From a business standpoint, entering China was not a controversial decision. China was (and is) a huge market, with more people than any other country, tens (now hundreds) of millions of Internet users, and an economy that was growing very quickly. There was a local competitor, Baidu, who had already developed a formidable presence in search, and Yahoo was also gaining momentum. Larry and Sergey visited the country and came away very impressed by all the innovation and energy they witnessed. They had always wanted to hire all the best engineers in the world, and a lot of those engineers were in China.

But while the business indicators all . pointed to a slam dunk decision to get involved, the don’t-be-evil indicators were much more mixed Information did not flow freely across the Chinese Internet We knew this from direct experience:. On most days, Chinese citizens were allowed to access our US site, Google.com, and get its unfettered (albeit English) results. But occasionally, Chinese traffic would drop to zero, and people from China trying to get to would instead be routed to Baidu (and its filtered results). Would opening up a localized site in China be better for the Chinese people, even if we would have to abide by local regulations, or would it make us complicit in the government’s censorship, something that ran counter to the essence of our company’s culture and values? Would establishing ourselves as a local business give us a chance to improve access to information and shed light on the questionable (and nontransparent) practices of the other search providers in China?

From the get-go , Sergey Brin was squarely in the “stay out” camp. His family had immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union when he was a child, so he had firsthand experience with Communist regimes and he did not want to support the one in china in any way. But many others on Eric’s staff disagreed, and the business factors-plus the hope of being able to change the information climate in china-tipped the scale in favor of entering. Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, who was running our Asia operations at the time, moved quickly, and within a few months established a Google China subsidiary We set up a business office in Beijing, and we grudgingly decided to comply with local censorship regulations, but with a twist:. We would inform users when results were being blocked. They could not access the censored information, but at least they would be informed that censorship was occurring.

One thing that surprised us was that many of the censorship requests we received were intended to suppress links to content that did not violate any clear, written law. Sometimes these requests were an attempt to mitigate spats between various government departments (one agency censoring the public statements of another agency) or to suppress scandals that had been planted online. For example, rumors started circulating that the sparkling new Beijing headquarters of CCTV (China Central Television) had a design based on rather salacious images. So we received, and complied with, a request to censor searches related to, among other things, CCTV, genitalia, and porn jokes. (and for all of you who just Googled those terms, (1) shame on you, and (2) we hope you’re not at work!)
In January 2006, we launched our localized Chinese site, Google .cn, with in-country servers, and a few months later Eric visited Beijing to promote the site. During one of his press interviews he somehow ended up sitting directly below a framed picture of Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. The US press, which was already ambivalent about Google entering China, had a field day with that one But things went well after that inauspicious beginning:. Our local engineers helped the product get much better, and traffic and revenue grew steadily between 2006 and the end of 2009. ”

With the hacking attacks, all that progress was suddenly in danger. Eric had always believed that engaging in China was not only the right business decision, but the right moral decision as well. While Sergey had always disagreed, . Larry had sided with Eric in light of the attacks, though, Larry was changing his mind The behavior we were seeing was evil, he told Eric, and was not going to stop;. in fact, the harassment would likely get worse. eric agreed with this assessment, but was surprised that self-eviction was our answer Both founders were now firmly against censoring our results on Google.cn

For leaders, decisions are when the hard work begins;.. there’s a reason why the word “tough” is so often followed by “decision.” (In recent decades it’s also often followed by “love,” but the implementation of that policy is beyond the sphere of this book.) Google’s decision to leave China was emblematic of how we reach decisions, how our process works Formulating a strategy, hiring the right people, and creating a unique culture are all preliminaries to the fundamental activity of all businesses and business leaders:.. decision-making
Different institutions take . different approaches to decision-making based on their hierarchical structure The Marines (top-down) keep it simple: One guy gives the orders to take the hill; everyone else takes the hill “Dammit, there’s only one guy in charge here so. put on your helmet and get going. “Most big corporations (bureaucratic) have far more analyses to perform before they can decide the best course of action. Do they have all the data they need? Have the analysts crunched it? Did they calculate pro ? forma revenues and EBITDA Weeks go by, the seasons change, and the hill stays before them, untaken “Maybe next quarter; the hill is definitely one of our stretch goals.”. and in the hip start-up (enlightened), the CEO proclaims that she works for the employees so decisions are made by consensus. “Everyone gets a say and the arguments are collegial, considerate, and last forever.” Let’s everyone go chillax, grab a cappuccino, and meet back here in a half hour to see where we stand, hill-wise. ”

So who’s right-top-down Marines, bureaucratic corporations, or enlightened start-ups? The pace of business change in the Internet Century dictates that decisions be made quickly ; the Marines win in that regard More demanding and informed customers and increased competition dictate that they be as well informed as possible;. the corporations may have an edge there and having a team of smart creatives dictates that everyone gets a say;. hello, start-ups. So all of them are right, of course. And they are all wrong too.

The answer lies in understanding that when it comes to making decisions, you can not just focus on making the right one. The process by which you reach the decision, the timing of when you reach it, and the way it is implemented are just as important as the decision itself. Blow any of these, and the outcome will likely be negative. and since there’s always another decision to be made, the impact of a poorly executed decision-making process can reverberate past that one issue.

As Sergey and his team continued their investigation throughout the latter part of December 2009, Eric knew that one of the most important decisions in the company’s history was at hand. Although he believed that staying in the China market was the best thing for the company, he also knew that both of the founders now disagreed with him. They no longer felt that our presence in the market was helping change government censorship practices, and did not want to participate in any way in that censorship. It would be an uphill battle to change their minds, so Eric’s focus shifted. It was not just about making the best decision for the company, but about orchestrating the process so the company reached that decision in the best possible way. There would be other crises and other important decisions, and the smart creatives who populated his staff and ran the company would be paying attention to and learning from how this one was handled. It was especially challenging, given that he was reasonably confident he would disagree with the outcome.

Sergey and his investigative team conclusively confirmed the origin and scale of the attack in early January, and the news was bad. Not only were the hackers trying to steal source code, they had also attempted to compromise the Gmail accounts of several Chinese political dissidents. Sergey felt it was important to announce the attack, and how Google would react, very quickly. there was little disagreement on that point. In Eric’s staff meeting that first week of January, Sergey forcefully made the argument that, as a response to the hacker attacks, we should stop complying with government censorship policies. He wanted us to stop filtering search results on Google.cn, even if it meant that the government would likely shut down the site, reversing much of our hard-won progress in the market He stood up in the meeting to deliver his point;. usually Sergey stands in meetings only when he’s wearing his Rollerblades. Eric was traveling that day and attending the meeting via video conference, so he counseled his team to consider all the data and come to the next meeting prepared to express and defend a position on what the company should do.

Because of the urgency of the situation, Eric convened the next team meeting for the following Sunday afternoon-January 10, 2010-at four pm It started with Sergey conducting a detailed technical review of the situation for well over an hour. He then reiterated the position he had expressed earlier in the week:.. We should stop filtering our results Eric knew that Larry was on Sergey’s side, which meant that the decision was effectively made But it was critically important that all of the members of his team be heard and have a vote. Everyone would have to pull together and rally behind the decision, regardless of where they stood on the matter. So the meeting continued for several hours. We reviewed the facts and had a lengthy, sometimes heated discussion. Finally , Eric called for a vote. The sentiment in the room was clearly favoring Sergey’s position, and the vote was not really necessary, but Eric felt it was important that each person get a chance to record his or her position. Some agreed with Eric that leaving China was tantamount to disengaging from that market for the next hundred years. The majority sided with Sergey, who believed that the Chinese government would eventually change their behavior because their current model would not be sustainable, leaving the door open at some point in the future for Google to reenter the market.

The ultimate decision, which the weary team reached around nine pm that evening, was not to pull out immediately. Rather, we would disclose the hacking attack with as much transparency as possible;.. to the best of our knowledge, of the numerous companies that were affected, we were the only one to go public with the details And we would announce our plans to stop censoring results on Google.cn We would not make this change immediately, instead giving ourselves time to-as our lead attorney, David Drummond, put it in the blog post announcing the decision – “[discuss] with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. “On Monday, Eric discussed the decision with the board, and on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, we announced it publicly.
The morning we made the announcement, we got several calls from government officials to our Beijing office wondering if it was some sort of joke. No one does this, one of them told us. Everyone just leaves quietly.

We were not leaving quietly. It was a public ultimatum, and Eric had complete clarity on what was going to happen. We would continue to talk with Chinese officials, to see if we could find a solution that was consistent with both our new public position and Chinese law, but that would fail. Google would not back down from its public stance, and China would not repeal its laws. So, as expected, in March we took the preordained step of shutting down search on Google.cn. Users visiting that page who tried to perform searches were directed to our site in Hong Kong, google.com.hk. From that point on, Google search results would be subject to being blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Our traffic dropped precipitously.

The TGIF of January 15, 2010, was dominated by discussion of the Chinese issue. Sergey and the security team presented in great detail what had happened, and reviewed the process by which the management team had made its decision. But before he could even get started, Googlers gave the entire senior team a long and thunderous standing ovation. The response from employees in China was of course very different. They feared for their jobs and even their security. Head of Engineering Alan Eustace, along with several dedicated team members in China, was instrumental in steering morale back on track, ensuring that the China team remained safe, engaged, and successful throughout that turbulent time. As a result, the legacy of the China decision was a giant dose of goodwill from Googlers around the world, and the legacy of the thoughtful process by which it was made was the reaffirmation of a set of principles governing how all tough decisions should be made.

 

Tricky parts:
1. Why search request to google.com sometimes suddenly fell to 0 in 2004?

China blocking Google
2. Why search in google will be directed to the Baidu search results page in 2004?

DNS cache poisoning in China

 

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