This article was published on July 6, 2010

Life during (cyber) wartime

Life during (cyber) wartime
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Frank Yu began his 7 year career in finance as an emerging markets trader and analyst for Coutts Bank, the private banking division of NatW Frank Yu began his 7 year career in finance as an emerging markets trader and analyst for Coutts Bank, the private banking division of NatWest. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from Harvard University and a Bachelors in Philosophy from Rutgers University.

Developing products and services in China remains challenging for us in the game and entertainment industry. On one hand, if we develop games for the local market, foreign companies cannot operate alone and must find a local partner to publish their games in China. For those developing games for outside China, this means finding workarounds from the lack of access to such essentials as facebook, twitter, youtube, dropbox and now foursquare. Even google docs, google images and even flickr, although not technically blocked, still do not operate at full functionality at all times.

As technical professionals, we have come to adapt to the ebb and flow of the Chinese firewall. Like a breathing entity, our bandwidth rises and flows based on some unseen manipulation by the government or unknown traffic somewhere in the grid. Foreigners in China have all become semi-experts on VPNs, Proxies and sites that can work around the Firewall. We exchange tips on VPNs and access points the way other exchange gossip or jokes.

It is with some relief that Google has for now been given some reprieve with a renewal of their ICP license (unconfirmed still) in China. The loss of some essential tools such as Google Contacts, Calendar and Maps to small businesses and startups in China, for both local and foreign, would have hindered the development of the startup eco-system that relies on these tools.

We have asked the question here among ourselves, what would happen if we lose access to Google Search and even Google mail entirely? Of course we would have work arounds and possibly even more stronger VPNs but each one comes with a cost in terms of speed and convenience.

Such fantastic tools such as Dropbox for sharing files became less useful once we needed to VPN to access large data stores of books and content. Once Foursquare required us to log into our mobile VPN and then checkin using the application, the fun was already gone. More important, what is the use of Checking in tonFourSquare if your friends and contacts have stopped checking in? Although many foreigners will resort to vpns to continue to access blocked sites, we will lose 80-90% of our local friends and contacts who do not want to bother with the extra steps or costs of a commercial VPN just to access foreign websites.

Although local websites will fill the hole left by blocked foreign sites, these will usually only be in Chinese and fail to attract the foreign and expat community. Some here in China say we are now becoming the world’s largest intranet that will have the largest online population but will only be a distant branch of the overall global Internet.

As the days go by, we are watching how Google will behave in their new relationship in China. Although they have principles and standards that they claim to adhere to, they also have responsibilities to their users here as well as setting the tone for how other digital companies can work within the framework of an ever more conservative Chinese state. Like overseas servicemen going abroad and having sired offspring on distant shores, they now have obligations.

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