Google upgrade blocks Hong Kong site in China

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Chinese users behind the “Great Firewall of China” have reported that Google Hong Kong has been blocked, according to several sources. While initially admitting it was a fault on their end, Google has now said that it is China blocking the site.

When news of Google China/Hong Kong was blocked, Google said that it was because of a new set of characters in all of its search URLs, “gs_rfai”, triggered the firewall because of the “rfa”, mistaking it for Radio Free Asia. This also affects all searches on Google, including the country and language variants (and yes, Pig Latin does count).

“In the last 24 hours “gs_rfai” started appearing in the URLs of Google searches globally as part of a search parameter, a string of characters that sends information about the query to Google so we can return the best result,” Google said in a statement.

“Because this parameter contained the letters rfa the great firewall was associating these searches with Radio Free Asia, a service that has been inaccessible in China for a long time–hence the blockage. We are currently looking at how to resolve this issue.”

Hours later, however, after some investigation, Google released another statement that said that change was brought in last week, and any change was made on China’s end.

“Having looked into this issue in more detail, it’s clear we actually added this parameter a week ago. So whatever happened today to block must have been as a result of a change in the great firewall,” Google said.

“However, interestingly our search traffic in China is now back to normal–even though we have not made any changes at our end. We will continue to monitor what is going on, but for the time being this issue seems to be resolved.”

Google changed its website about two weeks ago to after failing to persuade China to allow it to bring search results uncensored. Despite being part of China, Hong Kong is not affected from the censorship from Beijing after agreeing to allow it to continue its democratic ways, inherited from British occupation, for about 50 years after the handover. This was the motivation of why Google chose to move. Google, however, has not shut down all of its operations in Beijing, it still has a sales team in the country.

Its move to Hong Kong has seen praise by many and criticism from state media, which has accused Google being part of a “plot” to destabilise China by the United States, according to the Telegraph. China has acted quickly as well, telling many to remove any mention of Google or any of its services it had used, and telling journalists to use media sources from the government and “it is not permitted to hold discussions or investigations on the topic of Google.”

For more information about the Great Firewall of China, you can see the Hungry Beast’s video about it. We have embedded it in this post for your viewing pleasure.

Image: Skye Suicide/Flickr