Google says Chinas great firewall blocked search
March 31st, 2010

Just three hours after initially commenting on the cause of recent disruptions to its search service in China, Google offered a new explanation on Tuesday. Google said in an updated statement that changes it made to its search code, which it had initially cited as the cause of blocked searches in China, had been made a week ago, and not in the past 24 hours, as Google had first said. So whatever happened today to block must have been as a result of a change in the great firewall, Google said in an emailed statement, referring to Chinas technology for filtering Internet content.

Separately, it also said its mobile services in China were partly blocked on Sunday and Monday. The news comes with Googles Chinese search service already in the headlines due to a censorship dispute with Beijing. Analysts and China experts have been on the lookout for signs that Beijing might clamp down on Google and restrict its services, following harsh official comments in reaction to Googles new approach to offering Internet search in China.

The company shut its mainland Chinese portal last week and rerouted searches to its Hong Kong site in order to offer uncensored search results. But for most mainland Chinese, search results for sensitive terms like Tiananmen are still blocked by the Chinese government. Users in China began on Tuesday to report erratic results on, saying even searches for non-sensitive terms like hello returned blank pages. At other times, sensitive searches returned a normal result, showing links to pages that are then blocked by Chinas Internet filters.

Earlier on Tuesday, Google said that due to a change on its site, gs_rfai started to appear in the URLs of Google searches globally in the last 24 hours. 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, a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. We are currently looking at how to resolve this issue. Google said the problem affected lots of users.

It was not immediately clear why Google made the changes to the URLs. The updated Google statement said that search traffic to China was now back to normal, even though Google had not made any changes on its end. We will continue to monitor what is going on, but for the time being this issue seems to be resolved, Google said in the statement.

Some users in Shanghai on Tuesday reported no problems with searching through Googles mobile service, indicating that the outages are intermittent. Other mobile users have had problems ever since Google stopped censoring search results in China earlier this month. A Google spokeswoman would not speculate on the cause for the mobile outages.

(Source: Reuters)