Google Buzz blocked in China!

Written by Julen Madariaga on February 12th, 2010


NOTE: For those readers who’ve been offline for the past 3 days, this is a post about Google Buzz, the new Google service that has invaded the World’s mailboxes this week.

But take it easy, hold on a sec, don’t rush to your GFW test tools, this has not happened yet. I just want to be the first to announce it and get all the credit, since I am 90% certain that Google Buzz will be blocked within a week. The remaining 10% I am hedging in case the GFW censors get too high on Baiju over the New Years and their reactions are a bit slower than expected.

Look, I hate playing blogger of doom, but this is just how China works today. I’ve heard a few opposed opinions from bloggers I respect, and I am ascribing that to wishful thinking. There is no way Google Buzz is going to continue open, here is why:

  • Gbuzz is attracting very fast a larger number of users than Twitter or Facebook in China, due to its use of Gmail, a relatively popular email service here.
  • The viral transmission potential of Google Buzz is extraordinary, and very appealing for the Chinese way of using the internet. In the first 24 hours of GBuzz in China the popular Chinese bloggers where getting far more comments than pioneers like Robert Scoble.
  • After their recent controversy with the Chinese authorities, Google put Gmail (and now GBuzz) on HTTPS, which means that the GFW cannot  see the content flowing inside China. They cannot block particular users or keywords, and neither can they force a self-censorship of Google as they did with the, for reasons both technical and political for the Google company.

So what we have here is a means of massive viral communication, completely out of control and with a potential to piss off the Chinese authorities that may be second only to the Epoch Times.

A Real-time Simulation

For those who still don’t agree with me, I have used my old engineering supercomputer to do a real-time simulation of the upcoming events, starting from yesterday, when most Chinese Gmail users got access to GBuzz. The first 4 steps have already happened as of February 12:

Step1: GBuzz is rolled out in China and within hours the popular bloggers are getting streams of comments in the few hundreds. One of the first subjects of discussion is whether the Buzz will be blocked or not.

Step2: Some Chinese users start timidly testing the system with unmodified swearwords and taboos, such as Caonima and Malagebi. Euphoria: no comments are deleted or blocked!

Step3: - After 12h some Chinese users are already sending pictures of beautiful ladies with a peculiar tendency to wear less and less clothes even as the winter is hitting back hard on the mainland.

Step 4: Bloggers like Han Han or AiWeiwei discover GBuzz and start broadcasting there. Not only their posts, but worst still, the flow of comments is out of reach of the Chinese authorities. Comment threads are by now in the tens of thousands.

Step 5: The next big viral event hits the Chinese internet, and seeing that all comments get erased on the other blogs and microblogs, even more people starts flocking to GBuzz.

Step 6: By now most netizens have understood that GBuzz is their GFW free day out. Uncensored photos of Edison Chen or drunken party cadres recirculate widely, people even write appraisals of the performances. More than 50% of the words on GBuzz worldwide are in mandarin characters, and about 10% of them are some form of 妈/逼 word construction (mother /cunt).

Step 7: The early days of FOS were rather hectic, but the people finally realizes the advantages of communicating freely. The divide between the Chinese internet and the rest of the world is disappearing quickly, and Google Buzz has written a page in World history.

… in the meantime, somewhere in the middle kingdom…

the evil 5Mao teams of netizens sold to the the party have caught up with GBuzz and are calling their bosses in the propaganda department to wake up from their baijiu dreams and show up at the GFW headquarters with red tape and pruning shears…


OK, I think you get the gist by now. And the conclusion is this: there is no way GBuzz is going to remain open in China. The only question remaining to answer is what will happen to the rest of the Google services, in particular Gmail and ( is already doomed in my books).

I see here 2 possibilities:

1- Google Buzz could technically be blocked without blocking GMail, in spite of their integration. The GFW could achieve this by using intelligent URL blocks on the #buzz string that appears on all the buzz URLs. Easier still, since they are in negotiation with Google, they could ask G to facilitate the blocking of GBuzz in exchange for GMail remaining open.

2- GBuzz might go down and take down with it all the Google services in China once and for all. Especially this can be true if the negotiations between Google and the Chinese government are not as smooth as I supposed lately. This has happened already in Iran, and I am certain most leaders in the CCP wouldn’t even  blink. Or does anyone think they care about the outside opinion on China’s freedom of speech?

So this is only a 2-way dilemma, I don’t see any other solution. The final outcome of the Google vs. China affair is coming very soon, precipitated by the unexpected birth of GBuzz. Neither Google nor the CCP can afford to wait much longer, as the pressure is mounting on both sides. The end is near, fasten your belts and turn on your VPNs.

And Happy New Year of the Tiger

And now I am going to close the computer, leave the office and take a flight to a certain tropical destination in South East Asia where I intend to spend my New Year’s Holidays. When I am back to Shanghai on the 22nd, Google Buzz will be over in China, and I will be just in time to pick up the pieces. I look forward to a whole new series of posts on the year of the Tiger.

Happy New Year to all, 恭喜发财!

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Feb

    There are so many English here. I can’t translate it. Please send it Chinese to me!

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Feb
    Brently Ford

    We have identified you as a FUCKEN GENIUS. You have been retweeted. Cheers Brently (WPT)

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Feb

    A solution can be tunneling your traffic through the Tor network, which adds three layers of encryption as it goes through three nodes. The exit router can not know for who the traffic is, he only knows the middle node. The middle node knows the first and the exit but doesnt know the client

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    @kiLLiwatch: Sure, there are many solutions like TOR, proxies, etc.

    But the problem here is not technical, it is practical: these solutions all require action by the end user (ie. install/open proxy, etc.). And the majority of the end users will NOT take any positive action to be able to get to GBuzz, because they are still not “addicted” to it. So of course, GBuzz will continue to work behind the GFW, (just like Facebook now) but with a very reduced impact, and no chances to expand.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Feb

    Hmm, seems it is still there

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Feb

    Thankfully, looks like your timeline was wrong, but I’m still with you on the end result.

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Feb

    Giom & Tim:

    I think the main problem with my post is in the reaction time. As I already observed before, GFW is usually not very fast. Quick patches do exist, and sometimes single pages get blocked within a day of appearance, but most of the times there are long delays.

    This explains why blocked bloggers usually don’t know WHAT exactly made them get GFWd. For example, this site was blocked in June at a time where I had spent almost a month offline, and adding no political content for weeks before that. It must have been on the GFW queue for many weeks before.

    Anyway, I am glad I reserved that 10% for hedging :) It might still take a few weeks, but I have no doubt that pretty soon we will see some movement.

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Mar

    just passing on a link…

    Publish and be deleted - Global Times

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Gunthers, thanks for the link, I had already published it myself in the mini-Youren (on the right column of my blog)
    It is indeed a very interesting article.

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. May

    fwiw, it’s not technically possible to block google buzz and not block gmail.

    it’s also not possible to block google buzz in profiles via SSL like this:

    or direct links to buzz

    and not block the login URL for google:

    so it’s sort of… you either block ALL google services that require you to login, or you don’t block them at all.

    It has passed a lot of time since buzz appeared and it hasn’t been blocked.

    So what could China do?

    I don’t think China will implement DPI in their censors.. also, unless China makes a huuuuge propaganda campaign against Google, people wont like it if they suddenly can’t use any of google’s services.

    It really amazes me that it hasn’t been blocked so far.. I hope it stays like this :) , give china a dose of censorship-free information.

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. May
    Julen Madariaga

    Not sure they cannot block Buzz. It is easier than you think, they only need to block “buzz” string on the URL.

    But I agree individual buzz posts are difficult to handle because of https.

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. Jan

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