[This post has been updated – see below after the jump] Bangladesh seems to be apparently blocking access to Google and its related web properties. I noticed this on my own connection about 48 to 72 hours ago. Since then I have been able to get independent confirmation from those using different internet connections. This problem seems to affect Bangladeshis trying to access Google’s services via EDGE, GPRS, and landline based internet connections in both Dhaka and other locations in the country.
More details after the jump along with a way to bypass this blocking.
This blocking affects all google.com related websites. This includes GMail services, Google News, and Google Search [edit – feels strange linking to things I can’t see directly]. But other Google properties also seem to be blocked including Blogspot and Google Analytics. This means that blogs such as “The Third World View” (which I have to a link to in the blogroll) or any blogspot.com blog is inaccessible to Bangladesh residents for the time being. If you are lucky, your browser will say “connecting”, then “connected”, but then be eternally stuck on “waiting” (my ability to get connected at all might be because of my use of OpenDNS instead of using my ISPs DNS servers). It also means that any website which uses Google Analytics to measure site stats will result in only partial loading of websites (with the use of Google Analytics code resulting in the website being stuck on permanent “waiting”). Competing services like Yahoo! (including Yahoo! search and Flickr) and WordPress.com do not seem to be affected.
The good news is that this appears to be a simple proxy-based blocking – only ports used to load webpages (including SSL webpages) are affected. What this means is that you can still access things like GTalk and check your GMail using POP3. I have confirmed that GMail services continue to work via SSL POP3 and SSL SMTP access. Access to Google services is still possible through the use of TOR – The Onion Router. This is an encrypted form of web surfing that helps anonymize your web surfing. It also helps access censored or blocked webpages. TOR adds another step to your websurfing and (especially for connections in Bangladesh) makes websurfing a bit slower. Bangladeshis considering using TOR should only use it to access censored webpages. Information on how to download and install TOR is found here. TOR is available for both macs and PCs.
If anyone else in Bangladesh can confirm or contradict this – that would be great. I would love for this to be a technical glitch affecting only a handful of ISPs (so far confirmed blocking on GrameenPhone EDGE Network, Banglalink GPRS Network, and the landline ISP called WorldNet). With TOR, I have been able to once again use Google search, login to Gmail.com, and read up on The Third World View – which has provided an excellent source for news on Bangladesh. [edit – Oh, and Fake Steve Jobs also become accessible this way. Which, no doubt, was the reason why Bangladesh decided to block Google in the first place 😉 ]
[UPDATE 1: Since writing this post, I’ve contacted GrameenPhone (one of the ISPs blocking Google) for a comment. They have called this a “technical glitch” that would be “fixed soon”. I would like to hope so. Because, while Bangladesh has had a history of cutting internet access during curfews, riots, and states of emergency, it has never done website-specific censorship before. If it’s not a glitch, this would be a step in the wrong direction for Bangladesh. Unfortunately, there are a few reasons this might be more than just a “technical glitch”:
- This is not just a problem about accessing one site or one IP address. This problem affects almost all Google web services including: Blogspot, Blogger, Gmail, Google Search, Google News, and Google Analytics. These are all sites with different IP addresses and servers. All of these websites become accessible again once you use an anti-censorship tool like TOR.
- This problem is not limited to one computer, location, or Internet Service Provider. Blocking of Google has been confirmed in both Dhaka City and in the rural village of Modhipur. It has also been confirmed on multiple ISPs. It is not system specific as the block is present for Macs, PCs, and cellphone web browsers.
- Blocking blogs isn’t all that unusual in this region. Pakistan currently blocks all wordpress.com blogs. If there was a desire to block Blogspot in Bangladesh, the block might accidentally result in blocking of other Google websites. Many popular foreign Bangladesh bloggers use Blogspot and Blogger – such as Third World View and Deshi Voice. Now these websites are currently inaccessible.]
[UPDATE 2: As of Tuesday, Sept 11th around 2:30 pm access to Google has been restored. Gmail, blogspot, blogger, etc., can now all be accessed without the need to use TOR. Apologies if this post was overly alarmist. With the recent censorship in other mediums, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say that website-specific internet censorship would be the next thing to happen.]
[Update 3: I’ve written a follow-up about this here.]