In January 2010, Google announced that it had discovered "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China" that not only targeted Google, but at least 20 other major corporations as well. This attack - which also included an attempt to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists - led Google to review and then significantly reduce its business operations in China.
Since then, the Google-Chinese government relationship has remained distant but on the surface anyway, not overtly hostile. That relationship has apparently changed.
According to this story at Reuters, on Sunday Google accused China of interfering with Chinese user access to Gmail for the past few weeks. Google further accused China of disguising its actions in order to make it look like the access problems originated with Google.
Quoting from the story, Google released a statement that in part said:
"There is no issue on our side, we have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail."
Google is not likely alone in having problems.
This New York Times story says that the Chinese government has cracked down hard on all forms of electronic communication since the troubles in the North Africa and the Middle East began. The thought is that China does not want the call for a "Jasmine Revolution" to spread.
China no doubt has noticed that a major activist in the Egyptian uprising was 30-year-old Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing manager.
In related news, an article last week in ComputerWorld noted that 130,000 illegal Internet cafes had been shut down by Chinese authorities over the past six years. The cafes are heavily regulated - and monitored - by the Chinese government.
The ComputerWorld story says that:
"Around a third of China's Internet population surfs the Web from Internet cafes. The Ministry of Culture said the number of Internet cafe users in China reached 163 million in 2010. The country's total Internet population stands at 457 million users."
ComputerWorld notes that half the Internet cafe users range in age from 18 to 25 - the same age group of many of the political activists in North Africa and the Middle East.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.