JISHOU, HUNAN — A few days ago, I was Skyping with my friend in Ukraine. Today, my neighbors told me Skype was down, and sure enough, when I tried it, Skype couldn’t connect.
Since the Internet isn’t reporting a worldwide Skype outage, it appears China’s net nannies are blocking Skype now. Why? Because they can.
Skype joins the ranks of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, The New York Times and Bloomberg.com, among others. Some are blocked because of political reasons — The Times and Bloomberg have reported on the vast wealth of China’s new leaders, and YouTube is full of pro-Tibet and Falun Gong videos. Others are blocked to benefit their homegrown competitors — Facebook and Twitter could compete with China’s QQ and Sina Weibo.
China offers its own “flavor” of Skype, which is jimmied to allow China’s Internet watchdogs to spy on your conversations. My copy of Skype comes from the USA, so maybe the watchdogs are only blocking that flavor. I’ll be damned if I download the Chinese version, though.
China’s net nannies are getting smarter, as Philip Shishkin reports at i-policy.com.
My VPN provider, a major player in the market, explained in an e-mail that the disruption was due to a recent update of the Great Firewall, referred to as the GFW, which “now has the ability to learn, discover and block VPN protocols automatically.”
The next day, the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, ran an article headlined, “Foreign-run VPNs illegal in China: govt.” In it, the man known as the founding father of the Great Firewall was quoted as saying that foreign VPN providers needed to register with the government. “I haven’t heard that any foreign companies have registered,” Fang Binxing, who is now president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, told the newspaper.
When Fang gave a public lecture in 2011, a student threw a shoe and hit him. There is now a game called Angry Shoes, and the target is Fang’s head. Yeah, netizens here don’t like him very much.
VPNs are a way to “climb the Firewall,” as the local expression goes. China is supposedly requiring VPN providers to register with the government, like that’s going to happen. I haven’t used a paid VPN, but instead use a small program, Ultrasurf, that basically does the same thing. The developers release a new version every so often, and it usually works. Today, it was painfully slow opening up Facebook and Twitter, but there was no Skype joy at all.
Meanwhile, I am nearly done reading my pile of 180 final exams, and am looking forward to a nice long vacation in warmer climes in Guangdong. So, I may be missing from Facebook for a while. Please understand it ain’t my fault.