The Internet in China

I have just returned from a two-week visit to China – my fourth trip the country.

In China, most web sites – including my own and usually the BBC – are usually accessible but over 3,000 sites are blocked including the American tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook – what is often called the Great Firewall of China. In fact, while I was in the country, I was able to use Google and post to Facebook by using a VPN (virtual private network).

The Chinese state blockage of Google, Twitter and Facebook has the effect – as well as limiting free access to information – of forcing the Chinese to use their own versions of these services (Baidu, Weibo and WeChat respectively) which makes monitoring of Net content and activity so much easier and more comprehensive.

The ubiquitous WeChat is used for a very wide range of services including messaging, sharing photos, ordering cabs, and payment of goods and services. It has been called “the app for everything” and has around one billion active monthly users. On the assumption that the state has access to the app’s data, this is a powerful surveillance tool.

In China, smartphones seem to be as popular with older people as with younger ones and most people are consulting them all the time even over meals.


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