BEIJING : The Chinese government appears to have blocked the ability of people in China to gain access to Google’s email service through third-party email services like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook, which many Chinese and foreigners had been relying on to use their Gmail accounts after an earlier blocking effort by officials, according to Internet analysts and users in China.
The blocking began on Friday and has ignited anger and frustration among many Internet users in China. Data from Google shows traffic to Gmail dropping to zero from Chinese servers.
But it is not just a matter of convenience for Chinese Internet users. Some foreign companies use Gmail as their corporate email service, for example, and so companies will have to ensure that employees have V.P.N., or virtual private network, software to get into Gmail.
That software allows users to bypass the Chinese Internet censorship controls commonly known as the Great Firewall, although the authorities also try to inhibit that software.
Google is not the only company to be censored inside China. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is blocked there. Its Instagram photo-sharing service was blocked this fall when pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong began using it to share photos with mainland Chinese users.
When LinkedIn began offering a Chinese-language version of its business social network this year, it had to agree to censor content seen by Chinese users.
This time, Gmail appeared to have been singled out. Representatives for Yahoo and Microsoft said on Monday that the companies had heard no complaints from users in China about their email services being blocked.
United States tech companies want badly to have a larger presence in China, but have mostly been foiled by local competition and government controls.
“As far as we can tell, the only U.S. Internet company that has really ‘succeeded’ in China is Yahoo, because Jerry Yang and Terry Semel had the vision and the luck to invest in Alibaba a hundred years ago,” wrote Mark Mahaney, an Internet analyst at RBC Capital Markets, in a recent note to clients. “No other Internet company has managed to gain material traction in China, with government opposition one key factor.”
China’s position is that the world’s second-largest economy is open to United States tech companies, but only on the ruling party’s terms. Those terms are essentially to do business through local partnerships, to host data on Chinese soil — where the government has access to it — and to remove anything the party deems offensive. Investing in these controls is the de facto tax on entering China.
Google has prominently refused those demands, which has for years made it a target of the Chinese government. Google does have limited business in the country, like ad sales, and it recently opened the Google Play store to Chinese developers, allowing them to build apps for Android devices outside of China. But the company’s consumer-facing services, like its search engine, have largely been disrupted or blocked since 2010. Chinese officials had insisted Google censor its search results, angering some top executives at Google, who refused to comply.
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Some official publications have cited the company as one component of a Western conspiracy to undermine China, similar to accusations they make against Twitter and other American technology companies.
So while the latest Gmail-blocking tactics are new, the idea is the same: to block Google, wherever it is, in hopes of causing users enough frustration that they migrate to services like Baidu, a Chinese company that has a popular search engine here, that adhere to party rules.
People in China began noticing the new blocking of Gmail over the weekend, as their third-party mail applications failed to download emails from Gmail accounts if the users did not have V.P.N. software switched on.