28 Comments

Summary:

A visitor to China discovered that the Whispernet connectivity of her Kindle was able to download news publications otherwise impossible to get inside China due to the Great Firewall. China takes this censorship duty seriously, so it is surprising this hole exists.

Kindle books

On a recent trip to China, a woman from San Francisco discovered that her Kindle could breach the nearly impenetrable, aptly named Great Firewall of China, enabling her to download a variety of news publications. The Chinese government goes to great lengths to prevent uncensored information from entering the country through the Internet. The censorship, often referred to as the Great Firewall of China, makes it difficult if not impossible to get English language news publications inside the country.

A blog for Kindle enthusiasts, Me and My Kindle, tells the story of San Francisco entrepreneur Sophia Chiang who brought her Kindle on an extended visit to China. Ms. Chiang expected to use the Kindle for reading books and keeping her kids occupied. What she was surprised to discover is she was able to download major news publications from back home through the Whispernet connection of the Kindle. She said she was able to buy  “uncensored English magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly.”

China takes this censorship duty so seriously, it is surprising this hole exists. I suspect once they discover this easy way to breach the firewall, it will likely end up plugged. Meanwhile, those visiting China should bring the Kindle along. It may be the only way to get uncensored news from home.

Image credit: Amazon

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Irrational Exuberance Over E-Books?

  1. Leonardo Cohen Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Yeah, and now, the entire 1.2 billion chinese people also know that, so, good bye Kindle Whispernet in China…..

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  2. Maybe due to being raised in a country in constant straggle I wonder how this is a positive journalistic post (I mean the original one). We could have continue living without knowing it and I just wonder how many people will suffer from it being out in the open now.
    No offense please.

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  3. Chiang Kai-shek Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    I hope China close this glaring mistake quickly. Actually the Kindle itself should honor each countries policies and fix it themselves. And America needs to stay the hell out of other countries business. We need to stop being the world’s policeman. Yeah lots of people still want to come here but billions of people hate us with a passion for putting our nose where it doesn’t belong. That’s my political rant and I’m sticking to it. America needs to leave China alone and quit meddling in other countries affairs as it will usually haunt us years down the road.

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    1. How can “America” stop being the world’s policeman -and- simultaneously police the internet on behalf of China?

      It’s not Amazon’s fault the Kindle they made for Americans and Europeans and sold to the same doesn’t follow China’s laws.

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    2. This is unfair. China sells lots of products to markets like US. Why China doesn’t stop selling goods to the rest of the world? Even Barbies and iPhones are made in China. Is this something a little close to “stay the hell out of other countries business”?

      Censorship is a completely different subject than Business.

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  4. I suspect the reason is due to the Kindle’s use of a proxy server (8.18.145.238 / kindle-user.whispernet.com) at Amazon. I can’t believe the PRC just happen to miss this simple break in the Great Firewall since they also routinely block access to many proxy servers.

    IMO they left it open on purpose and not by mistake thinking it wouldn’t be a big problem.

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  5. Rockfeller Furier Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    What’s her intention?

    Thanks to Mz Chiang that CCP is now aware of the hole and I doubt we can use kindle to access information any longer in China.

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  6. As stated in the article, this is possible for visitors to China, not residents. I fail to see why this should impact Chinese citizens at all.

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  7. @beelerb: yep, this is just like the Skyfire Mobile browser that uses a UK proxy.

    I’m not sure that this is such big news though. Here in Beijing I can read the completely uncensored content of the New Yorker, NYT, Newsweek and Atlantic websites without using a VPN.

    Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Flickr: blocked. I don’t think the Kindle can help me there.

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    1. Chairman Mao Tuesday, July 27, 2010

      Thanks for the heads up. Obviously more leaks need to be plugged in our great FireWall to protect our important citizens from irresponsible Western influence and corruption.

      The order has been given.

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  8. Yankee Go Home Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    The western colonial powers need stay clear of China, China Territories, and China Seas. Our internet is off limits to propoganda from the west. Any Kindle violators will be tracked down and prosecuted to the full extent of our laws. Let it be known that we will not tolerate illegal activities by corporate America.

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    1. Please, if you use the internet (made in America), then you must abide by the internet rules. Screw your censorship, why does the Party have to hide? In the west, people can say that the governments do anything, but at least in the West people are thought to be smart enough to figure out the truth instead of blindly following what their government tells them to think, or having wu mao party to tell them what they should feel.

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  9. Packet Analyzer Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    We will not allow Kindle to destroy China network. Kindle users will be in grave danger if this outrageous violation of China sovereignty does not cease immediately. Amazon will feel our wrath. Neutralizers have been dispatched to appropriate stations around the globe. You WILL be dealt with in the harshest manner possible. The motherland will not yield to the decadent American corporations and their ilk.

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  10. How dare Amazon behavior in this matter. This is a total outrage and a clear breach of China Security and Rules of Law. The perp must be punished for this attack on the peoples Republic Of China proper. This Kindle device should be banned and deemed a security threat of the highest order.

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  11. I fully expect the Chinese to respond to this Amazon attack.

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  12. Speaking of Kindle, I’ve notice that for almost 24 hours now, Kindle 2 has been “out of stock.” Wonder what’s going on? Last time this happened it was between K1 and the introduction of the new K2. Is K3 about to be announced? Any inside word on this?

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    1. Obviously China has halted all shipments of Kindle to Amazon. Jeff Bezos will pay a high price for upsetting the Chinese.

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  13. Jeff Bezos will pay a high price for the nefarious activities of the Kindle against the people of China.

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  14. Henry Kissinger Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Amazon better be very careful. If China decided to unleash a torrent of hackers against Amazon.com it could doom the company as it is heavily reliant on the internet for sales. This could get ugly real quick.

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  15. This is very dangerous move by Amazon. I suggest they rethink their Kindle policy before it is too late.

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  16. James perhaps it would have been wise to keep the source a secret. However I do not blame you as its publicly posted elsewhere. As the DA:Origins say it, may the maker have mercy haha.

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  17. I was able to access and update Facebook through my blackberry facebook application, while it was blocked through regular internet channels.

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  18. The Chinese government goes to great lengths to censor Chinese-language information. English-language literature is much less heavily censored.

    I do not know if this is a courtesy to foreigners or if the censors just aren’t as good with English. And believe it or not, most Chinese citizens are not interested enough in foreign ideas to search for it in English.

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  19. Referring to China’s actions as its “censorship duty” is not the best choice of words; it has too much of a positive connotation. Something like “censorship effort” would be more neutral, and one could think of many negative terms with negative connotations such as “censorship” with no modifiers.

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  20. Having personally been on the other side of the Great Firewall with things like Tablet PC’s and e-ink ebook readers I can report that things aren’t as simple as blocking visitors from their daily electronic information.

    On one trip to Shanghai I was reading a story on CNN that had these incredible spelling errors in it. I was eating breakfast as I was heading back to the US and closed down the browser on the article. When I got home I opened up that article again and hit refresh and voila the spelling errors didn’t just vanish the words themselves changed. That’s when it hit me that someone had done a little inline editing on CNN.

    One time I was headed down to the lobby for breakfast and forgot my tablet PC up in my room. After hitting the lobby I did the ol’ about face and headed back to my room. I ran into a man whom identified himself as hotel security leaving the room as I got to the door. When I got to the tablet PC it had a nice error message about a drive I/O error whilst loading a DLL on the G: drive (the usual USB drive letter).

    I quit taking my tablet PC to China after that incident.

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  21. Pfft, “nearly impenetrable” is a bit of a stretch. I live here, and anyone who can afford to pay $50 a year or so for a VPN service can also get behind the firewall. Those who can afford an imported Kindle, or rather, those who might be interested in getting online with the device, probably already has done so through a VPN. This won’t affect things for the majority one bit…but if Amazon was to launch service here, they’d have to change, that’s for sure.

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  22. you guys are clueless. China’s great firewall does NOT block English language news publications. NYTimes, CNN etc are not blocked at all. What’s blocked are Facebook, Youtube, and some Chinese language discussion sites. English news are not blocked. You don’t even need VPNs for reading NY Times. To get to facebook, however, you do need VPN.

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    1. Thank you – The vast majority of the people posting here have no idea what they’re talking about. I have lived in China for ten years and never have much of a problem accessing English language media online even without a VPN. This ‘hole’ in the censorship net isn’t a hole at all and is in line with the way the gov approaches censorship. If Kindle had a great deal of content in Chinese and was sold in China, then it will / would be a different story….

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