The Internet in China Malfunctions

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People in Beijing, Shanghai and other centres may have been wondering what was happening to the internet in China yesterday, when they tried to access their favourite international websites. Instead of getting through to the likes of cnn.com, Internet in Chinanews portal yahoo.co.jp etc, and games websites including runescape.com they ended up in two very different places.

These unfamiliar surroundings were open-source software house wpkg.org that handles Windows admin, and ptraveler.com which aims to keep readers entertained and informed on travel matters but appears to have taken its site down. No doubt their administrators were delighted with an uptick in the number of visitors. If they did this deliberately to charm Google, then I am afraid their bounce rates will tell a different story.

Why the Internet in China Behaved this Way

Reuters was also affected and went live almost immediately with input from their Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms. They had to. The internet in China is growing exponentially and if anything faster than the second largest economy in the world. Reuters quoted the chief research officer at Finnish software security firm F-Secure as follows:

‘If Chinese users visit a page which has the ‘Login with Facebook’ or ‘Connect with Facebook’ button, Facebook’s Javascript code gets replaced with Javascript that’s loaded from wpgk.org or ptraveler.com.’

While it is tempting to suspect malpractice or bad intent behind the change to coding on the affected international websites, the results are of such little benefit to wpkg.org and ptraveler.com compared to risk and cost that I am inclined to discount any internet fraud on their part. The only two remaining options are hacking by a third party or a technical failure somewhere. As the problem only affected outgoing contacts from the internet in China then someone in the People’s Republic may have to shoulder responsibility.

The Answer May Take Some Time to Figure Out

Access to the internet in China has historically suffered from poor stability and speed, as the nation struggles to manage the traffic and integrate with the wider web despite regular disruptions and blockages. Reuters commented on how this affects both business and private individuals, before going on to finger the Communist Party by alleging it ‘operates the world’s most sophisticated censorship mechanism in order to quell sources of information the Communist Party sees as potentially destabilizing or undermining its rule.’

I disagree with Reuters this time and blame a technology glitch. If China has caused the chaos, surely the result would have been more wide ranging. And why is Facebook being so slow in commenting about what happened to the internet in China yesterday, and the role it may have inadvertently played?

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Social Brand Watch (SBW) is a collection of experts in digital, mobile and social media in China. SBW was created to complement Resonance's China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly report focusing on modern marketing methods of the world's top brands in China.

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