China Denies Gmail Interference Claim

The Chinese government has denied it is preventing Chinese users from accessing Gmail accounts

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday denied claims by Google that Gmail problems experienced by Chinese users in recent weeks had been caused by Chinese government interference.

“This is an unacceptable accusation,” Jiang Yu, a government spokeswoman, reportedly told a regular news conference on Tuesday.

State interference

On Monday Google charged that the Chinese government was behind issues such as users being able to log onto their accounts but being unable to perform tasks such as sending email or accessing address books.

“There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively,” Google said in a statement released to the press. “This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”

The recent Gmail problems have been going on intermittently since the end of January. They coincide with calls by some media outlets for “Jasmine Revolution” anti-government protests in China inspired by current agitation in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The service has been really bad recently,” a Gmail user in China told eWEEK Europe UK. “I’ve been trying over and over again just to log into my account.”

Google’s troubles with the Chinese government go back to January 2010, when the company said it was no longer willing to censor Chinese search results.

Last year Google accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out attacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.

Targeted attacks

“We’ve noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users,” wrote the Google Security Team on its blog. “We believe activists may have been a specific target. We’ve also seen attacks against users of another popular social site.”

The search engine giant has recommended users and corporations to consider deploying Microsoft’s temporary Fixit to block the attack, until an official patch becomes available. the attack only affects users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, apparently.

“We’re working with Microsoft to develop a comprehensive solution for this issue,” said Google Security Team.

The Chinese government has consistently said that claims it is involved are groundless.

Despite the alleged state interference, some Gmail customers have managed to access their accounts via virtual private network (VPN) services, which allow subscribers to anonymously surf blocked websites by employing private proxy servers that encrypt data.

VPNs blocked

However, the government is reportedly expanding its blockage of VPN connection. According to Witopia, a provider of VPN technology widely used among foreigners in mainland China, there is a surge in customer complaints about technical difficulties when accessing websites.

“Although many are unaffected by increased blocking attempts of VPNs and proxies in mainland China, support volume increased dramatically,” said a Witopia spokesperson on the Financial Times.

In January 2011, Beijing claimed that it had deleted 350 million websites in a campaign to wipe off ‘harmful information’ from its online community. The deleted contents included text, pictures and videos, among which 60,000 were adult websites.

“There was a notable improvement in the online cultural environment,” said Wang Chen, head of the State Council Information Office.