My trip to the Chinese Internet
I decided it is time to travel to China - virtually. And see what it is like "to surf there".
I used a SOCKS5 proxy, 18.104.22.168:3010 on Firefox, in order to "block myself on purpose" and see the Internet as I would see it "there"... "there, where the proxy is", obviously. there are a lot of trash proxy sites, which do not work, but this did, and I found it here:
No Google. Yandex.ru works strangely - it does not show me the search field, as it normally should (and I am checking stuff in parallel with Midori, to see where Midori shows something else than Firefox).
I got invited instead to log in. The URL shows https://passport.yandex.ru/auth/?origin=china ... so I assume I am really there.
Wikipedia: no Wikipedia. China, my dear! 😃
Gov.cn: working awesomely. fast, too. Greeted by well-known statesmen and happy people at that.
weibo.cn: Navigation is difficult, once I no longer have Google translate and I do not know Chinese...
OK, let me go to China's "google", baidu.cn... We all know I likely should not do this, but if you were me, you would do this, too... ... ... THIS IS JUST TOO FUNNY!
Now let's check whether "Black Lives Matter"... Yes, they DO!
Did Americans land on the moon? TOTALLY!
Am I going to get to the European Union's main page?!
Speaking of the language barrier: Babelfish seems available! Let see, "Corruption in China"...
aaaand Babelfish is GONE.
OK, can I get a VPN provider?
NordVPN? dream ON!
Ivacy? To hell with me!
OK, shall I ask... Baidu? 😃 I do get hits on Baidu!!! - wow! - While Baidu does show a lot of results, do you see all those white triangles in my browser tabs? It is not actually possible to open the links! - ok, but that is sloppy. Because that literally smears the censorship in my face.
I know these pages exist, and they will not be shown to me. Perhaps it is also a way of letting me know that "you better should not search this topic". Totally amusing is, of course, the VPN server list, which somehow made it through their firewall. And two are actually reachable, IVPN and StrongVPN, apart from some Irish VPN.ie, which must be too fringe for them to get it, and some VPN pioneer. In other words: the case is not entirely hopeless, but apparently, they do their best to block it.
Ok let me search some more things.
Dailymail? Nothing. Fox News? Nothing. New York Post? Nothing. I do not need to mention that CNN and all the TV does not work. India news? ahh, it suggests, "www.cnn.com/india", but I cannot get there...
It seems that if the US and UK is blocked likely also Canada and Australia... What would they underestimate? South Africa? Most of it is blocked aswell. A few sites I get, and now this gets interesting:
Searching for China here:
But looking for Uighurs is totally blocked:
British news? Well, apparently, nobody ever heard of the BBC, and if I even try, of course there is nothing. There is the "British News", whatever that webpage is!
Funny is that I do get to some trash outlets like http://www.newsdump.co.uk/
Where I can actually see what newspapers I shall never read. OK, "The Sun" is perhaps not the greatest loss in history, but you get the idea!
Back to Baidu: I Insist on searching the Telegraph: china site:telegraph.co.uk
Now you can search it, eh? It was "harmless" enough, eh? Gotcha! https://www.telegraph.co.uk/china/
It actually does load, and again, it the same suuuper-slow and suuuuper-crappy way that marks what happens when their expert systems try to determine "can you see this or not". It is like, when they specifically try to scrub a website, they make it all sort of text-only and "to be unpleasant". So I go away from this unpatriotic site.
Let me read on this unpatriotic site something harmless: "Letters: China has gradually become the greatest threat now facing the world" https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2020/07/02/letters-china-has-gradually-become-greatest-threat-now-facing/ ... aaaand NOTHING.
How about "Hong Kong's security law is a global problem"?
And after I clicked on this, "https://www.telegraph.co.uk/china/" NO LONGER IS ACCESSIBLE.
Firefox is going full scale CPU usage. Had to pkill it.
Conclusion: What do I learn from this?
- There seems to be a "fixed" system filter: sites like bbc.co.uk don't even appear. I I do not see that they are filtered. They just don't ever show up.
- There seems to be a system where sites are filtered in a "secondary" way - I see the website exists, but I am not allowed to access it. CNN and The Sun seem to be examples.
- There seems to be sort of "tertiary" system where the site I try to access is really filtered. An example would be, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/china/
- Interestingly, not all of the Telegraph! - This system apparently is when the censorship is "unsure". The site becomes generally "unattainable". - The Telegraph, as of this writing, after I tried to access also some other sites on it, became entirely blocked. I can no longer access www.telegraph.co.uk.
- The system is English-centered. It is very strict even on South African sites. (The problem is, Australia, and by extension New Zealand, knocked themselves out of the game by having a dispute - that US, CA & UK would be "blacklisted" is obvious.) However, if I learn German (I know, life is too short to learn German, as Mark Twain put it) I have a pretty decent chance to circumvent them. The "problem" with German for them, I guess, is that the language "changes" words considerably, particularly verbs, depending on the grammatical usage, and it becomes rather difficult to do "text matching". The thing that English does with "go" and "went", German does in a similar way all across the language. - Rarer languages apparently get you even father, like my native Romanian.
- The censorship needs a moment to catch up. I do not get "NO" results for VPN "at all", but "nothing already known a little longer". I guess that is why the dynamic blocking is in place.
- Baidu, their search engine, does something rather embarrassing for them: it shows inaccessible links. "Properly" done, these sites should not even be shown - just like this sites in "category 1 blocking". This way, I see a full list of the things that are inaccessible. Now, that has interesting side-effects, I guess:
a. It shows me "when I am doing something I should not" - I notice it by not being able to follow the links;
and b. this must be so common, given that the links are not pre-scrubbed, I guess there are a lot of people triggering aaaall sorts of "forbidden" websites every day innocuously. This gives me perhaps a measure of factual protection. (Still, likely I would not do what I did tonight in one of their internet cafés.)
- Search fields in newspapers may not work, but asking Baidu to search the newspaper - I mean, they even copied Google mnemonics! - does work. However, you may block the entire newspaper that way, at least for yourself. (Sorry, Telegraph, I had no idea.)
- "Something killed my browser" and I had to restart it.
- And of course: Facebook? - "What Facebook?"
The overall feeling is this: not that information is "absolutely inaccessible", what is much rather noticeable is the feeling that I am being controlled and observed. Sites vanish into thin air just in front of my own eyes. Links are shown - but do not open, so I know I went where I should not have, and perhaps others will want to know what I wanted to know.
All in all, I am quite happy to turn OFF the proxy now...
Thank you for reading my article, Enjoy the screenshots. Until next time!
Your friendly neighbourhood Hacker.