After four-year ban, Dropbox is back in China

Steven Loeb · February 18, 2014 · Short URL:

Chinese government banned the site in 2010, then brought it back, without any explanation

While people were getting up in arms, and rightfully so, over the NSA scandals that started last year, one thought that would occasionally pop into my mind was: "It could be worse, we could live in a country like China." This can be an annoying, and sometimes dangerous, line of thought, but I also think it's a pretty fair comparison.

China is a country that, on a whim, can just decide that its users will not access to a certain website, or service. Besides torrent sites, or other illegal activity, I'd be hard pressed to think of a time when the U.S. government suddenly decided that there was something that its citizens were not able to see.

Case in point: Dropbox, which was banned by the Chinese government nearly four years ago, because... well, who even knows? The reasons for the ban were never made specifically clear.

Of course, just as quickly as the government can drop a service, so too can it bring it back. So, now, for the first time since 2010, Chinese users can access Dropbox, according to a report from Tech In Asia, once again without any explanation.

The service has, apparently, been available since "late last week," but the news site held off on reporting it until it could verify that Dropbox was available throughout the country. Personal cloud syncing and public file sharing are now both available.

Some users have been saying that Dropbox could be also accessed at times last year as well, but this was likely not anything official given how unstable it reportedly was.

VatorNews has reached out to Dropbox to confirm that the ban has been lifted. We will update if we learn anything more.

The Dropbox ban might have more to do with promoting Chinese services than anything to do with Dropbox itself. As Tech In Asia pointed out, China’s web speeds to overseas servers are sluggish and slow, making them hard to use. This helps the country promote its own storage services, like Baidu’s WangPan and Tencent’s WeiYun.

One of Dropbox's other international competitors, Google Drive, has never been allowed in the China at all, and remains banned.

Censorship in China

The fact that the Chinese government holds a tight grip over what its citizens can, and cannot, view online is nothing new. 

China has had a particularly contentious relationship with Google. It got so bad that Google has not even operated in the country since 2010, instead moving operations to Hong Kong.  Other sites and services that remain blocked include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, Vimeo and Soundcloud.

Just last month, the Chinese government implemented a ban on Web anonymity, specifically for YouTube-like online video sites. Obviously, once people can't hide behind avatars and usernames, they will be much less likely to say anything bad about the government.

Two studies recently conducted by political scientist Gary King revealed just how nuanced and systematic China’s Internet censorship actually is.

While authorities allow for a certain amount of general anti-government ranting (within certain parameters—explained further below), it specifically cracks down on online posts calling for any kind of organization or grassroots protest. The studies found that posts even hinting at a call to action were often removed immediately, within 24 hours.

But while the Chinese government allows for some political dissent online, that changes when posts go viral. Last September, authorities arrested a teenager from Gansu Province for posting an anti-government tweet on Weibo that (supposedly) was retweeted more than 500 times. The arrest was made under the new policy that allots jail time to those who post “inaccurate rumors” that are retweeted more than 500 times or get 5,000 views.

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