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.

Kane Gao