As unrest in the Middle East gains traction with sympathizers globally, China tightens its current Internet controls. It appears the government's infamous "Great Firewall" has ramped up its interference capabilities on Gmail, virtual private networks (VPNs) and social networks, where disruptions in service some say is "a new kind of attack by Chinese censors."
WiTopia considered by many as a safe haven of sorts provides VPNs for Internet users to assist them in circumventing the firewall by blocking the 'intercepts' and 'packet sniffing' that normally blocks outgoing messaging. With the slogan, "a little peace of mind in a dangerous world," the Reston, VA firm ensures online privacy any where in the world, for both Chinese citizens as well as international travelers.
The Economist reported that for years China's Internet police turned a "blind eye to paid-for VPN services such as WiTopia's because they were mainly used "by foreigners in China, less likely to be trouble-stirrers." In the past only the fee-free VPNs were routinely blocked. Today, the majority of these sites are experiencing disruptions in service.
The Arab Awakening that has been played out on the global stage via social networks is sometimes referred to as the "Jasmine Revolution." Since Tunisia's 'jasmine' is the nation's flower, the term refers to a renewal - a rebirth of people in oppressed lands - who are searching for a new sense of harmony in their governments.
In February, when an anonymous activist group began urging Chinese people in 13 cities -including Beijing - to engage in their own "Jasmine Revolution," the Chinese halted searches and status updates for the catch phrase that surfaced on Sina's microblogging network called Weibo - China's version of Twitter. This was subsequently extended to other social networks like Renren, China's Facebook-like platform.
As it pertains to Google, China knows that blocking Gmail across the board would raise an uproar throughout the country for both locals and travelers. So, while the government resents "being demonized abroad as a draconian Internet censor" - it continues to deny that it is doing anything at all to disrupt Google's Gmail service - even though many users have indicated otherwise.
Google has responded vehemently stating the disruptions persist even though China would like the world to believe that the problem lies with the search engine.
While China's Big Brother doesn't look like it is going to go away any time soon, it does appearPanic Button app that the Chinese government either needs to cover its tracks better or loosen up its censorship grip. And while the world watches and dissidents grow in number worldwide - pressure from democratic nations like the U.S. are going to continue to find ways to provide the oppressed with tools (like the recent Panic Button App) to expose more and more of these tactics (for more on this topic, see previous post, titled, "U.S. Govt Acts As VC Arming Social Activists With "Panic Button" App").