The Opposite End of China comments on a thorough Wall Street Journal article about Google’s efforts to enter China, and the compromises it has had to make with the Chinese government regarding the censorship of information within its borders. Apparently, bits of Earth and Maps are censored in certain parts of China, as of a few weeks ago:
The balance has already proved tricky. Until recently, Google’s map and satellite-photo service offered Chinese Internet users something they rarely could see: a bird’s-eye view of the secret compound of Zhongnanhai, where the country’s top leaders live and work.
But in recent weeks, close-up views from Google’s satellite images of the leadership compound in Beijing have been blocked in at least parts of China. It’s not clear how widespread the blocking is, or whether the government is behind it. Google says it didn’t alter that part of its service for Chinese users. In any case, the feat betrays a high level of technical expertise.
Barring the possibility of this just being due to a bad connection, it is also not clear whether this censorship exist in just Maps, just Earth or both. I can imagine how it might be relatively easy to block specific high-resolution tiles for Maps, as these have specific fixed names, but it must be a lot more difficult to sniff out what Google Earth is sending and receiving. Another thing I wonder about — wouldn’t a dose of encryption make Google Earth exploration completely opaque to outside snoopers?
If the Chinese government is blocking its own citizens from seeing where their leaders live, whereas the rest of the world can see just fine, we’re talking some major institutional paranoia.