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Index asked Jon Penney, a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Toronto's Citizen Lab, to explain the technical side of China’s formidable internet machinery.
He began by explaining that while we have a basic understanding there’s a lot about how China controls the web that we don’t know.
“Many thousands of Chinese websites and dozens of companies have been shuttered because they failed to control their content adequately.” Many foreigners and a small percentage - some statistics say about 1 per cent - of Chinese people use “tools” to bypass censorship.
One of the more popular is VPN (virtual private network) but last year China began to develop means to disrupt these. VPNs had become a popular way to ‘tunnel’ through China's GFW, by encrypting traffic and effectively ‘hiding’ content from key word content filters.
From Mac Kinnon again: “There are plenty of social networking platforms and other delightfully entertaining and useful services on the Chinese Internet to keep people occupied, without much need to access sites and services based overseas - assuming they have no interest in politics, religion or human rights issues.
“Baidu, the homegrown search engine, enables people to locate all the content on the Chinese-language Internet that their government permits.
“If that traffic contains any matches with a list of pre-defined banned keywords, then it suppresses the traffic with a ‘TCP connection reset’; in simple terms - it prevents the traffic from reaching its destination.
“So, again, the Chinese Internet user's computer is unable to connect to a website located outside China that its computer's browser is trying to communicate with.” Penney continued: “Though we are still learning about where these IDS are located on China's internal internet infrastructure, they are most likely located at the ISP level, that is, on edge routers deployed by major ISPs like CHINANET and CNCGROUP, that handle a lot of China's incoming/outgoing internet traffic.
These censors are employed by the Public Security Bureau and paid monthly.” Mac Kinnon also explains that many of the big internet companies also hire their own censors, knowing that they will be held responsible for “illegal” content unless they take proactive measures themselves.
“All Internet traffic contains data packets, with information about its source and its destination, its ‘IP address’.
“A router configured to block a list of IPs would inspect a packet and drop any that are destined to one of the blocked IP list.
“Nanjing University was the testing grounds, where students were hired under a ‘Work Study’ programme to influence discussions in the University's newly established bulletin board system with a pro-CCP perspective.
“I suppose the success of that project led to a more permanent governmental programme to recruit, train, and deploy teams of pro-CCP commentators throughout the internet.
The respondent said that he received an email every morning from a branch of the local government on what issues to cover that day.