Google Earth censored in China?

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?

BTW, here is a site that links to Zhongnanhai. If anybody in China reads this, I’d love to see a screenshot of what Google Maps and Earth show at this location. (Location in Earth [KML], Maps)

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.

4 thoughts on “Google Earth censored in China?”

  1. The satellite image looks the same as it did in June for me here in Beijing. I, too, am curious about what a blocked Zhongnanhai would look like.


  2. I know that there was a favorable article published about Google Earth in China in the Xinmin Weely in Shanghai. (I was interviewed for it and have a copy; I can’t read it though. The version translated through Google’s translation tools was pretty funny but probably not very close to the original.)

  3. I am viewing the site from China and it is loading just fine – I can also view it from Google Earth just like the rest of Beijing.

  4. Because of the high resolution of google earth images, which exceeds many old military satellites, many goverments in the world like India, China, USA, Taiwan ecc.. have requested Google to apply a mosaic type of censorship on certain parts of the map for strategic reason.

    For example, India don’t want Pakistan to know the exact position of his troops.

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