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Google's China Shutdown a Test, Analysts Say

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Watchdog site says 12-hour blockage might have been authorities flexing muscles, and measuring response.

Mainland Chinese Internet users were blocked from Google web pages for a 12-hour stretch last week, in what commentators called as a test of the government's ability to clamp down on service - and how the public would react.

On November 9 – the day after the launch of the Chinese Communist Party’s week-long National Congress – mainland Chinese Internet users were blocked from accessing Google websites, according to greatfire.org, a portal which monitors online censorship in China.

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The blanket ban was lifted after about 12 hours, greatfire.org administrators noted in a post on their website, but certain services (such as Gmail) and pages operated by the Internet provider remained unstable because of locked or censured IPs.

“Another possibility is that this was a test of a new ‘block Google’ button. The authorities may want to know that, if they so wish, they can easily order the blocking of all Google services in China,” the greatfire.org post explained. “If this was indeed such a test, the timing seems convenient (Friday night, when international business are closed).”

Officials may also want to measure how the Chinese would react to such a move – which might explain why other Internet servers actually allowed users to search for Google-related pages or leave Google-related messages online, said the greatfire.org post.

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“Interestingly, Sina Weibo did not block searches for Google,” said the post, referring to the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. “Neither have they, as it appears, deleted any messages referring to Google recently. Perhaps this was deliberate, if they wanted to measure the reactions. Perhaps they will now evaluate how strongly people feel about having access to Google, and reach a conclusion of whether to permanently block it in the future.”

Such online blockages are common in China, where Internet users are frequently unable to find pages based on searches for politically sensitive words and phrases. Google has had run-ins with Chinese authorities over the years. In 2010, the company’s Chinese arm drew the government’s ire by ending self-censorship– a move necessary to secure official approval for operations in mainland China – and redirecting search queries to Google Hong Kong.