Venezuelans say they are unable to access key Google services

Illustration by Eduardo Sanabria. Used with permission.

During the first days of September, many Venezuelan Internet users reported having difficulties accessing Google services through the state-run Internet service provider, CANTV, the largest telecommunications company in Venezuela. The service seemed to be working again by mid September, but the conversation revealed the many ways online users are deprived of information and communication online.

Blogspot, Hangouts, Google Drive, and image services, including Gmail attachments were among the services affected.

I think our little friends from the broadband Internet service (ABA) at CANTV are blocking access to specific Google CDNs (content delivery networks). I'm not sure of the breadth of the service outage/block, but it is consistent. Run a quick test by opening the Play Store to see if the app images are downloaded.

In the absence of official information, users began to speculate about the reasons behind this outage, pointing to an intentional block by CANTV as a possible cause.

Venezuela Inteligente, a Venezuelan civil society group, said that Facebook and Twitter had also been affected by the outage, suggesting that content distribution platforms may have been the intended target. It could not confirm, however, if this blackout was caused by an intentional block:

We are continuing to review the problems of accessing several important platforms via #CANTV, many of these problems are occurring in the CDN platforms (content distribution networks, which load common files more quickly) At this time WE CANNOT CONFIRM an intentional block #internetve #9Sep

Meanwhile, Fran Monroy, a technology journalist, declared that the blackout stemmed from a combination of technical failures:

A colleague specialized in telecommunications @fmonroy explained that #CANTV has two problems at this time in #Venezuela Read the thread.

It is worth mentioning that frequent outages have been an enduring characteristic of state-run Internet services. It not only happens with the Internet connection, but also with the electrical grid.

In Venezuela, attacks against the Internet are not new. Among other cases, in June 2018, the anonymous browser Tor, and various pornography sites were blocked.

Furthermore, a recent study by Venezuela Inteligente, IPYS Venezuela and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) found that the censoring of news websites in Venezuela by means of DNS tampering and HTTP filtering is a wide-spread practice.

When content is blocked by means of DNS tampering, the domain name server does not respond to the Internet protocol (IP) request. When a specific web address is entered in the browser, the IP request is prevented from being carried out. Meanwhile, HTTP filtering blocks access to information whose principal code contains a syntax seen as invalid by the system.

In the past, Venezuelans have reported being unable to access of radio frequencies, but more recently, stricter control has been seen with the direct blocking of independent news sources and the arrest of journalists. A few days before the latest reports of blocked platforms, international media outlets had already condemned attacks against independent news sources.

Meanwhile, other limitations linked to the political and economic crisis have also meant less freedom of press and expression. The shortage of basic goods such as paper, or the recent economic measures (that include, for example, a 60-fold increase in the minimum wage, due to soaring inflation rates) have forced several media outlets to close their doors.

As a result, the number of news outlets that could oppose Nicolás Maduro's government are being reduced in a sustained and ever-accelerating manner.

A study co-written by the author of this post and Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights) reports a deterioration in online communications in Venezuela. The study also indicates that the restriction of information and communication that has been documented in Venezuela and the lack of transparency in the use of personal information are a violation of human rights.

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