If the Great Wall of China is the country’s most famous manmade structure, Western Companies say that its ‘Great Firewall’ is its infamous cousin. China has long maintained a tight grip on what information passes through the Internet in the country, and these strict restrictions are becoming a huge hurdle for many investors from Europe and in the United States.
Foreign Internet companies are the most affected by the China’s increasing censorship efforts. In particular, the country’s grip on the use of virtual private networks has caused many IT companies to leave China and caused difficulties in communication and getting information for those that remain.
The Great Firewall
China’s censorship of the Internet is driven by the country’s need to protect their interest, values, and political ideas from other ideologies they may deem as dangerous. To this end, they censor websites and even pieces of information that they deem may cause unrest. These range from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, to searching for politically sensitive phrases such as the Tiananmen Square protests to the Free Tibet Movement.
Google has been victim to China’s censorship over the years, which escalated back in March 23, 2010 when Google directed search results from Google China to Google Hong Kong. China has since blocked many of Google services such Gmail and Chrome following this. In response, many foreign companies have been using VPNs and third-party email services as a way of circumventing China’s ban.
China, however, has added new barriers to further prevent people from using Google’s services. Late last year, many people in China reported that their third-party applications were failing to download their emails and were becoming difficult to access despite having VPNs. On the other hand, representatives from Microsoft and Yahoo report that their users did not experience any complications regarding their services, which further reinforces the belief of many that China is strictly targeting Google. The government, however, maintains that it is Google that is censoring and blocking their services which only aggravates their relationship further.
For many foreign companies that rely on Google’s services, this adds a new level of frustration and complication as communication is getting more difficult and gathering information seems nearly impossible. These are not the only complications; foreign and multinational companies note that doing business in an increasingly paranoid climate is choking business growth and is increasingly making doing business in China an expensive venture.
Only time will tell if these censorships will become stricter and force many foreign companies to leave China and never return.