Fang Binxing, the so-called "Father of the Great Firewall," found himself in the embarrassing situation this April of having to install a VPN and circumvent the very firewall he was so instrumental in constructing while giving a public talk on internet security. He avoided a similar gaffe at a lecture last week, as reported by blogger "Maple Whispers." Fang got a few laughs at the beginning of last week’s lecture by describing his earlier VPN incident, but had local files of his demonstration webpages saved this time. Maple Whispers paraphrased some of Fang's key points:
“It’s been more than a decade since I left this line of work. I don’t dare to say this in public, but if I were still working, I would personally say that I believe the problem for tech personnel is ‘incompetence.’ What does incompetence mean? Say, for example, that I know there’s a bomb in this building. I can control this bomb with precision and guide it towards the bad guy. But what we’re doing now is blowing up the entire building. The bad guy is dead, and I don’t care about anyone else. This is the failure of tech personnel.
“Look at the pages I just demoed from Google and YouTube. They both have systems for censorship. Every day they filter masses of search results. So I think this thing [the GFW] should have a good technical solution. I want to give you students the green light. It’s actually quite simple, it can be done now. But that it hasn’t been done shows that our technology has failed." [Chinese]
Fang spent about 20 minutes discussing Google and YouTube's "censorship mechanisms" (审查机制), including how Google deletes search results in response to pressure from governments and the public, and YouTube’s module for deleting videos. Maple Whispers believes Fang’s emphasis on Google and YouTube “tells us the importance of self-censorship and the role government and public opinion ought to have in monitoring content providers.”
Google has made available some government requests to remove content in its transparency report, but has not done the same for content removal requests for YouTube. (YouTube is a subsidiary of Google, whose parent company is Alphabet Inc.)
Often the object of netizen scorn, Fang has been pelted with shoes and eggs at public lectures. He was welcomed to Weibo with a chorus of jeers. But should all the blame for China's hogtied internet space fall on Fang? Maple Whispers thinks not:
From his lecture, there seems to be a sense of regret and hopelessness about the overreach of the GFW. But as the one who created this monster, he must surely take responsibility for what he’s done. In government, warfare, and the internet, no technology is innocent.
But it’s a shame that Fang has become a scapegoat, the target of everyone’s excess anger. Whether he is deserving of infamy remains to be discussed. In the end, what do we hate—the dome over the Chinese internet, or a person? [Chinese]
Read more about the Great Firewall via CDT.