GitHub Has Been Unblocked, Maybe

GitHub unblocked?

The social coding website GitHub, which fell on the wrong side of the Great Firewall on Monday, has apparently been restored on the mainland, though as you can see from the above via GreatFire.org, tests have yielded contradictory results.

According to Global Times:

Lee Kai-fu, a prominent Internet figure and former vice president of Google, spearheaded the protest by saying on his Weibo that he “strongly opposes the blockage,” adding that GitHub is the world’s largest social media programming and code hosting website with more than 3 million users.

Chinese programmers constitute the fourth-largest group of users of the site, Lee said in his Weibo.

Lee said that it is unreasonable to block the website since doing so would not only “isolate Chinese programmers from international software developers,” but also “hurt China’s competitiveness and vision.”

Lee’s comment was reposted more than 75,000 times as of Wednesday night and stirred heated discussion about why the website was censored.

But was it unblocked because of the social media protests? It’s hard to tell at the moment, but tech observers have noted their skepticism.

John Artman, our tech contributor, writes in:

I agree with Charlie. Kaifu Lee is one of the “leading intellectuals” that was invited for tea after the Nanfang incident and the “protest” was only on Weibo with only 75,000 forwards (seems like a large number, but not in proportion to Chinese population or active users of Weibo).

There’s a few different possible reasons: MIIT, after possible lobbying from bigger software firms, realized that software development would halt after blocking GitHub. Also, could be a huge fluke where GitHub was blocked after running afoul of automatic blocking from GFW (controversial URL/content).

GT’s report also quotes an anonymous plug-in software creator who claims the reason for the original censorship was not, as widely speculated, due to the railway ministry’s ticket-buying site.

A creator of the plug-in software, who demanded anonymity, told the Global Times that blockage of GitHub has nothing to do with the software.

“The software has been removed from GitHub since January 16, well before the site was blocked,” said the programmer. “The true reason is some people post sensitive articles on GitHub’s blogs.”

…GitHub was not the only programming website that had been kept away from Chinese mainland users. Google Code, Google App Engine, SourceForge and several other renowned technical websites have been blocked at times.

“Some of them were blocked because they contained codes of virtual private network, or VPN, a kind of software that allows users to get over the Great Firewall. Others contained ‘sensitive’ comments that reveal political opinions,” Huang Weilian, a programmer and a renowned IT blogger, told the Global Times, adding that blocking these websites increased the cost of software product development for many Chinese start-up companies.

As always, trying to figure out the how and why of website censorship in China remains an exercise in futility and frustration, like reading tea leaves inside a tea bag dropped into a cauldron.

US tech website back online (Global Times)

2 Responses to “GitHub Has Been Unblocked, Maybe”

  1. Martin Johnson

    As the founder of GreatFire.org, quoted above, let me clarify that GitHub was indeed fully unblocked (https://en.greatfire.org/github.com). The connection-reset as well as the DNS poisoning have both been lifted. When it comes to DNS poisoning, because of caching there’s a delay before it works everywhere.

    On the idea that the blocking may have been automatically triggered, I believe this is unlikely since GitHub was blocked using separate methods, introduced at different point in time. Generally, automatic blocking doesn’t affect a whole website but certain URLs containing sensitive keywords.

    The real challenge for the GFW authorities is HTTPS. GitHub is unblocked for now, but their temporary blocking of it didn’t change anything. Because it’s encrypted, they can’t selectively block content. You can use GitHub to publish any content and the only thing they can do to stop you is to block the whole site. Which, as you point out, has commercial consequences and so they’re reluctant to do it. Very interesting to follow.

    Reply

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