China's 'Great Firewall' Cuts Off Gmail Access, Silences Government Critics

If you've been paying any attention at all to the Internet this past month, you're no doubt aware of the fact that North Korea has simply dominated tech headlines thanks to Sony's film The Interview. But lest we forget China, another nation infamous for the restrictions imposed on its citizens.

Making great use of its Great Firewall, China's allegedly decided to cut off access to Gmail over the weekend. A spokeswomen for China's Foreign Ministry said that she didn't know anything about Gmail being blocked, but website GreatFire isn't ignorant of what's happening. There, a member has said: "I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google's presence in China and even weaken its market overseas".

Taking a quick look at Google's Transparency Report backs that comment up. At the start of 2014, Google services were alive and well in China, but as time went on, the traffic continually dwindled. If you look at the very end of 2014, you can see yet another plummet.

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The situation is even worse for Google's other sites, like Gmail. In 2009 through to 2010, there was much activity, but after that, there were months where it looked like there was very little activity. YouTube is even worse.

This blocking of Gmail comes a few months in advance of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, which saw the death of potentially more than 2,000 people, with injury striking thousands more.

Fortunately, while China's Great Firewall is effective, it's of little impact to those making use of VPNs. Zach Smith, a digital products manager based in Beijing says, "Using a VPN seems to be the only answer to doing anything these days online in China."

That puts perspective on things. Even as Internet situations on these shores seem to become gradually worse, our situation is still dramatically better than what Chinese citizens have to deal with.