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Nokia's Xpress browser has been blocked by China's Great Firewall

Nokia's Xpress service for Lumia Windows Phones

China isn't a friendly country to internet companies. We know it's got a problem with Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and millions of sites with .tw, .jp and .hk domain names. Now Nokia's brand new Xpress service has just joined "China hates you" club.

It works like this. The Chinese Communist Party evaluates all websites and services, one by one, according to whether they like it or not. The ones considered "unharmonious", as the government tends to phrase it, will be kept outside the country with an extremely advanced internet censorship system nicknamed the "Great Firewall", or "GFW" for short. Basically the GFW works like this:

  • Block sites & services by domain name. (Rarely happens)
  • Block sites & services by server IP address. (Most common trick. Example: Twitter)
  • Sniffing the byte stream and reset individual HTTP connections upon finding "unharmonious" contents. (Example: Google)
  • DNS hijacking. (Example: Windows Phone Marketplace for most of 2011)

As to what makes something "harmonious" or "unharmonious", there's no clear definition. "Unharmony" could come from pornographic content, violent images, strong languages, ideas that don't go well with the government's political propaganda, etc. Anyway, as long as the governors don't like it. More often than not it's about political reasons.

WP Central

Nokia's Xpress service features server-side data compression, which means the Xpress server retrieves data, processes it, and relay the packages to users. This effectively breaches the IP address blocking part of the GFW. Because what should originate from, say, the Twitter server, is now coming from Nokia's server, which is not in the IP blocking list.

Big Brother won't like it for sure. Xpress surfaced in the Marketplace around yesterday (Beijing time). The boys at WPDang gave it a try, found it working nicely (by which I mean breaching the GFW) as expected, and hollered the good news around a bit. This morning they woke up to find Xpress not working any more. The dutiful harminiators behind the GFW work fast and with a flick of finger they threw the Xpress server into the IP blacklist. Problem solved.

Moral of the story:

  • Doing business in China could be pain in the [beep] for internet-centric companies.
  • Big Brother doesn't care how big you are. Google? Microsoft? Apple? Nokia? Actually the bigger you are, the more attention (the bad kind) you get.
  • We guess Nokia will have to forget about Xpress for Chinese Lumia owners, or cook up a GFWed special version for the particular market.
  • If you are in China, and have found some great tool for GFW-scaling, keep it really, really quiet. Spread the news and your trick might just fail.
  • If you are about to come to China for whatever reason, DO PURCHASE A RELIABLE VPN SERVICE before boarding your flight, or it could be too late.

To know more about which sites are blocked by the GFW and how Chinese people (as well as ex-pats in China) feel about it, just track the hashtag #fuckGFW on Twitter. Enjoy

This post is written safely behind my trustworthy VPN provider, with one extra VPN service for back up plan, and a paid HTTP proxy for the ultimate failsafe. Let's pray this one doesn't get WPCentral blocked by the GFW. Amen.

  • In Communist China, the government browses YOU!
    Technically, they do! LOL
  • Lmao. I laugh for a good min. Classic
  • China also encourages stealing ideas/designs/products from foreigners that do business in China.  This allows a Chinese owned company to make money on the idea/design/product.  It has happened many times.
  • I don' mean to make my own country sound bad. But sometimes I suspect GFWing foreign sites and cloning ideas happen hand in hand. For example: by having Twitter GFWed, a legion of Twitter clones have grown without worrying about international competition here, with two of them to the size of over 300 million registered users. Same for Facebook. Same for YouTube.
  • I was more talking about physical products.  Inventors in other countries have their products manufactored in China to save on cost.  It frequently happens that products then get copied by Chinesse companies and sold not only in China, but in other countries, directly competing with the companies they stold from.
  • Frustratingly yes. With so many small-timers stealing product designs, I reckon 80% of the time the brands themselves are not aware of the theft. Even if they do, suing a tiny manufacturer who is located in another country and not necessarily legally incorporated will be super tricky. Hate it too, but looks like there's no way to effectively stop it. The government doesn't encourage this though, merely ignore. But at such scale, ignoring is more or less the same as encouraging...
  • it ok, we all know what's happening in there, the political party there needs to break down into 2~3 major parties in order for China to further open up, unfortunately China is still in it's early stages of evolution, can't expect that to happen for another 20~30 years
  • Damn, and we are in the XXI century. Anybody said Orwell 1984? :)
  • This world is a scary place.
  • It is easy, put some xpress server behind the GFW. Opera Mini solved this problem a few years ago.
  • Keep posting like this and you'll be surprised tomorrow.
  • How do you think Xpress Browser works on S40 devices in China?
    Remember, still in beta...
  • No disrespect to Chinese but China has some bad ways of screwing ppl even there own. They benefit the government not the ppl. I'm so glad I live on the USA where freedom is paid by the brave. Anyways Nokia phones will be hard to sell on that market & not having the xpress browser shouldn't be a big deal.
  • That's sadly true...their "good for all" government is as corrupt as hell.
  • I hate GFW everyday
  • OMG, u spake vs. China, when I did that I got censored...
  • China's total regime is taking care for one thing. Acquiring Western technology for free by seducing Western companies with temporary cheap labour. Once Western companies made the step to invested in China, they are copied, unprotected and banned. No profit is going to leave China. China makes sure it is the only one making profit and gaining technology from foreign companies. In the end China will copy, reproduce and simply ban Western companies.
  • little off the topic.. shows a score of 241 on Lumia 900 using xpress browser.. IE9 is 138 only. i really liked the app..
  • This is crazy, good things being filtered out by the communist regime..
  • Nokia.... This browser is working great.
    It is actually acting as proxy server.
    Browsing is fast affordable.
  • Good software can't explode...
    But when they even manage to somehow make soy sauce, watermelons and coins explode. I'm wondering if they can manage to make software explode.
  • I don't see what the fuss is about. The same happens in the west especially the US which btw happens to be the most draconian police-surveillance state in the world, they are just more sophisticated in their methods. No crude blocking of IP addresses, they go straight for the people who run sites that are "unharmonious" with their socio-political agenda. Its weird that westerners are ok with this form of censorship as long as the regime says it's illegal, but if any other country does it, its an encroachment of rights & freedoms.
  • Communist are always afraid of truths and internet. Btw Nokia Xpress works well in Vietnam. Maybe Vietnam government does not have money to build GWF as China.
  • If Bruce lee was Alive he will be a good person to have a windows phone lol ....