Gmail has been blocked in China, experts speculated that the Chinese Government used the China’s Great Firewall to interfere with the email service.

Bad news for Chinese Gmail users, the popular email service offered by Google was blocked in China. Anti-censorship and privacy advocates speculated on filtering activity operated by the national Great Firewall system.

According to the freedom of speech advocacy organization GreatFire.org, a significant number of Gmail Web addresses were cut off in China on Friday and the service is still down at the time I’m writing.

Gmail is an uncomfortable service for the Chinese Government that cannot exercise the complete control over the services offered by Google. Increasing the distrust in Gmail service would allow the growth of other email services in China that could be directly controlled by the Government of Beijing.

“I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google’s presence in China and even weaken its market overseas,” said a member of GreatFire.org, which prefers to maintain secrecy about his identity. “Imagine if Gmail users might not get through to Chinese clients. Many people outside China might be forced to switch away from Gmail.”

The Google Transparency Report page also reports the “Recent and ongoing disruptions of traffic to Google products”.

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I have extracted the following graph that shows the drop in real-time traffic to Gmail services.

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Experts at Google excluded any technical problem to their systems.

“We’ve checked and there’s nothing wrong on our end,” a Singapore-based spokesman for Google said in an email.

The Chinese Government has denied any involvement in the block of the Google Gmail service, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed that the authorities were not involved in the Gmail outage. She also added that the Chinese Government reported that it was interested to provide all necessary services to the companies that intend to operate in the country, including Gmail.

“China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude towards foreign investors doing legitimate business here,” she said. “We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China.”

Google services are continuously under attack in China, in August the organization GreatFire revealed that starting on August 28th, CERNET users have been observing warning messages related to use of invalid SSL certificates accessing google.com and google.com.hk website. Experts speculated that the Chinese authorities were running a man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack to eavesdrop encrypted traffic between CERNET and Google.

Despite the numerous attacks, Google Gmail users until last week could still access their emails because there were no interferences to the protocols like IMAP, SMTP and POP3.

Of course, the destruction of the Gmail service could have serious repercussion for all the companies operating in China, which ordinarily base their services and operations on Gmail.

The only way the users have to bypass the China’s internet censorship is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which allows unhindered access to blocked sites and services.

Pierluigi Paganini