China: Removing the blocked RSS rumor

Very annoying hearsay and bullshit is how the anonymous rumor from this past weekend that all RSS feeds have been blocked in China has been judged by bloggers both in the country itself, and those with years of posts spent dealing precisely with this ever-frustrating and -evolving complex matter; Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Chinese Media blog Danwei, for example, responding to the Ars Technica post dated October 4 which set things off:

Uh, no. All blogs on Sina.com, China's biggest blog host have the word blog in the URL, and there are plenty of URLs and feeds that include the terms “rss” and “feed” that do not trip the Chinese Net Nanny's filters. Ars Technica feed are inaccessible in China because it is run through Feedburner's server (feeds.feedburner.com), which is blocked.

Unfortunately, uber-blog Boing Boing linked to this piece of nonsense.

The nonsense, originating in Ars Technica's reference of several unnamed and unspecified sources, linked to by BoingBoing not just once but twice, both times neglects to point out that Feedburner feeds, blocked for the second time since just this summer, still arrive perfectly well both at mainland readers as well as to Bloglines and Google Reader.

IT blogger I Yee this weekend writes:

Everything seems to be OK…Domestic online RSS Readers can load feedburner feeds. Like many people's prediction, China-based online RSS Reader providers must do whatever they can do to keep feedburner feeds available in their RSS Readers. Technically, not very difficult to realize that, simply use the proxies.

And while the majority of response among China-based bloggers was in fact not indignation at the distortion but immediate offerings of get-around solutions, it's interesting noting not just how far the rumor spread, but what got added onto it, from alarm and calls for howling and waves of protest to a petition and calls for international condemnation to entertaining the notion of bartering with China's entry into a major regional free trade agreement at TechCrunch and pages of discussion at Slashdot, to the point that when informed clarifications were soon after made, even the Committee to Protect Bloggers responded with somewhat of a flippant tone and still managed to perpetuate the rumor.

Davesgonechina at Mutant Palm provides a local simulation confirming I Yee's findings, demonstrating that for someone using a Chinese feed reader from the mainland, while RSS feeds of any sort from previously blocked sites such as Blogspot and LiveJournal are not getting picked up by the widely-used Feedsky, Feedburner feeds from others show up as they should:

Woah, hold on there kids! So far the only RSS block I know is Feedburner – which has been blocked before. Meanwhile online aggregators like Bloglines and Google Reader remain unaffected. Hell, my aggregator is still passing along feeds to me that are from Feedburner! Anyway, Ya I Yee has pointed out that Chinese RSS giant Feedsky is an alternative. Which got me wondering:

Does Feedsky filter firewalled feeds?

Some quick experiments to see if Feedsky even acknowledges the existence of some feeds:

This blog's Blogspot feed: Yes, it is filtered.

This blog's Feedburner feed: Filtered.

My Flickr feed: No!

Ya, I Yee's Feedburner Feed: No! Wait, what? Why didn't mine go through?

The traditionally blocked BBC News Feed (which I get laundered by an aggregator): Yes, filtered.

The Flickr page of Jake Appelbaum, home of the notorious Oiwan Lam photo link: No, not filtered!

Jess Nevin's LiveJournal: Yup, filtered.

“I don't really understand that Ars Technica article. Their feeds are run through feedburner – even though the host is nominally feeds.arstechnica.com, pinging it resolves to feeds.feedburner.com. So that's not evidence of a keyword block,” writes one Mutant Palm reader, to which is replied: “Yeah, I noticed the same thing with the Ars feeds. Meanwhile, they're getting “reports”.”

Throughout the various discussions, Tor is of course mentioned, as are recently-adapted censorship circumvention tools such as gladder, which comes with (blocked) Chinese-language instructions, and the multipurpose, it turns out, WiFi sniffer shield HotSpot.

Specific to Feedburner are what Carsten Ullrich has come up with based on an earlier Blogspot accessing trick from I Yee, and instructions from Rick Martin at Panda Passport which leave open code that gets Feedburner feeds pulled through to the Chinese service Feedsky (which, I Yee points out, has a little-known English-language version).

17 comments

  • […] GV Advocacy has a nice round-up here. […]

  • […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerpt and Google Reader. IT blogger I Yee this weekend writes : Everything seems to be OK Domestic… Bloglines and Google Reader remain unaffected. Hell, my aggregator is still passing along feeds to me […]

  • Great post man. And a horribly twisted journey it all is.

  • […] Michael McWhertor wrote an interesting post today!.Here’s a quick excerptVery annoying hearsay and bullshit is how the anonymous rumor from this past weekend that all RSS feeds have been blocked in China has been judged by bloggers both in the country itself, and those with years of posts spent dealing … […]

  • Re: CPB “to the point that when informed clarifications were soon after made, even the Committee to Protect Bloggers responded with somewhat of a flippant tone and still managed to perpetuate the rumour.”

    Describing the post from CPB as “flippant is disingenuous to say the least. First CPB report as you do the post from Arts Technica then provide an UPDATE from GoldKorn. Their comment on both posts and the explains how China attempts to censor blogs and that the addition of filtering RSS feeds is a bad trend – a fact confirmed by Danwei that Feedburner is blocked. CPB ends with a further UPDATE from Arts Technica. It is beginning to appear that Global Voices Advocacy rather than work together with other blogs on Freedom of Speech issues is determined to undermine those blogs such as CPB.

    Global Voices might imagine it is the voice of bloggers throughout the world and is behaving like it’s funders – Reuters and Harvard – as if it is the spokesperson for the international blogging community and only source of information on what is happening in the blogging community. Get off your high horse – you are not representing or representative of the global blogging community. The fact is that GV is beginning to act like a clique and the Rupert Murdoch of the blogging community is a high disturbing trend not to speak of the complete lack of respect towards others like CPB which does not have the benefit of pure “establishment” backers such as Reuters and Harvard both of whom have their own agendas and interests which for one do not represent me and many other bloggers.

  • @ John

    Its amazing how those rumors are floating around the Internet. Thanks for clearing that up man and for sharing with us what Chinese bloggers are saying about.

    @ sokari ekine

    -1- Global voices never claimed to be the voice of bloggers throughout the world. But it is thanks to it that we are reading what bloggers throughout the world are writing. Well, if you know another website that is doing better, globally, please share your links with us and we will cover it.

    -2- “Reuters and Harvard both of whom have their own agendas”

    yes, that might be true and it is their right to have own agendas. But how is that implicating GV? And please, before accusing GV, don’t miss the point that it is GV who was/is covering stories that others didn’t dare to cover because of their political and personal agendas.

    -3- I don’t think that this post is meant to be an attack on CPB or anyone else. Here, at GV Advocacy, we’ve supported the CPB when was back and we are supporting any initiative that is dedicated to protect online free speech. It is a provocative post, that’s for sure, but I don’t think that this is more revolting than the imprudence of the rumor itself.

    -4- “It is beginning to appear that Global Voices Advocacy rather than work together with other blogs on Freedom of Speech issues is determined to undermine those blogs such as CPB.”

    first, who are these blogs (we need some facts here)? second, do you think that the fact of covering the reactions of the Chinese blog community to a story that they think is not true, is undermining blogs such as CPB? are you serious? Please read my post about how difficult is to cover censorship issues and what is our approach.

  • […] China: Removing the blocked RSS rumorVery annoying hearsay and bullshit is how the anonymous rumor from this past weekend that all RSS feeds have been blocked in China has been judged by bloggers both in the country itself, and those with years of posts spent dealing … […]

  • […] the same thing, I suppose.At any rate, John Kennedy, of Global Voices, has published a post that recaps the actual state of affairs and links out to some of the more productive and less hysterical postings on this situation from […]

  • Inst

    Ya, seriously, if you have a problem with GVO’s attempt to mandate a worldview, why not start your own? I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear the voices of fenqing, 2ch xenophobes, and assorted regime apologists worldwide, alongside the standard secular humanist internationalists (does GVO mean the voice of the globe or just the voices that are global?). It’s not that expensive to start a blog for that, it only takes time. And if you do it well, you’ll push GVO into competition and they’ll start to edge towards your position in order to maintain relevant.

    ESWN sometimes posts stuff I strongly disagree with in their links, but Dr. (right? I recall he mentioned a Doctorate from Stony Brook) Soong is a great guy and gives what seems to be a comprehensive overview for the Chinese internet.

  • uber-blog Boing Boing

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.