Google Takes Blame for China Search Failure; Yahoo Accounts Hacked (Updated)

Google explains that recent errors with search queries for even harmless terms are due to a technical error and not government censorship. From the Financial Times:

Users based on the Chinese mainland could still access all Google sites and enter some search words on Tuesday, but from early evening any search in Chinese for words as harmless as ‘dog’ or ‘home’ turned up a browser error.

…However, a statement from Google on Tuesday night said a technical change on its part was to blame for the surge in searches being blocked, not increased Chinese censorship of its site.

Google said a string of characters the US company had introduced to all its search queries globally to improve results included the letters rfa, which also happen to stand for Radio Free Asia.

“Because this parameter contained the letters rfa the great firewall was associating these searches with Radio Free Asia, a service that has been inaccessible in China for a long time – hence the blockage,” Google said, adding that “we are currently looking at how to resolve this issue.”

Update: Later, Google changed the explanation of the search outage. From the LA Times blog:

But, after an investigation, Google on Tuesday blamed the outage on China’s Internet filtering system.

“It’s clear we actually added this parameter a week ago. So whatever happened today to block Google.com.hk must have been as a result of a change in the Great Firewall,” a Google spokesman said. “Our search traffic in China is now back to normal even though we have not made any changes at our end. We will continue to monitor what is going on, but for the time being this issue seems to be resolved.”

Also, several Yahoo! accounts of foreigners in China have been hacked, AP reports:

The Yahoo Inc. accounts of at least three journalists and an analyst became inaccessible over the last few weeks. They were greeted with messages saying, “We’ve detected an issue with your account” and were told to contact Yahoo, they said Tuesday. Yahoo technicians told one of the four that his account had been hacked and restored his access, but it was not clear if the other instances were related.

…It was not clear where problems with the Yahoo e-mail accounts originated. All four people affected are professionally focused on China and related issues. They said they had heard of other colleagues having similar problems, including one journalist who lost his Yahoo account entirely in January.

Clifford Coonan, China correspondent for The Independent and the Irish Times newspapers, said he received the “issue with your account” notice when he logged in Tuesday. Another reporter said she received repeated error messages from Yahoo last month.

The Western analyst said he was locked out of his account for four or five days, until he spoke with a Yahoo representative Monday who went through the security questions and restarted it.

March 30, 2010 4:50 AM
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