Chinese Government Blocks IPVMBy: Charles Rollet, Published on Oct 22, 2018
IPVM has been blocked by the Chinese government without any notice or explanation. This means IPVM.com is no longer officially accessible anywhere in China.
The move comes as Hikvision and Dahua face a global pushback over their track record on human rights, cybersecurity, and Chinese government ties – pressure that is in part motivated by IPVM’s reporting.
In this note, we examine what happened, possible reasons for the ban, China’s extensive system of censorship, and what this means for IPVM going forward.
IPVM discovered that its website was blocked in China late last week. Accessing IPVM.com in China now directs to a page which makes it appear as if IPVM is down or having server problems:
This is a “typical message for a blocked site” said GreatFire.org, a China-based organization that monitors Chinese online censorship. GreatFire confirmed to IPVM that its website is now “100% blocked in China,” as demonstrated by GreatFire’s China block tester.
Blocked sites in China do not show any official signs of being blocked, something done to mislead Chinese netizens into thinking the sites are simply not working rather than being censored, according to GreatFire.
No Explanation Nor Warning Given
The Chinese government did not give IPVM any notice or explanation for the ban. IPVM requested comment from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the government entity responsible for blocking sites, but received no reply.
“There is no appeals process,” GreatFire said, while “typically, nobody receives notice of a block.”
IPVM Now Behind Great Firewall
China’s government runs an extensive online censorship system known as “The Great Firewall”. Around 10,000 domain names are blocked under the system, according to GreatFire, including almost all Western social media companies – such as Facebook and Twitter – and Google, Gmail, and YouTube.
IPVM now joins a long list of foreign media outlets blocked by the Chinese government, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, the BBC, and the Wall Street Journal. Some of these outlets were blocked as retaliation for specific reporting.
As an example, Bloomberg was blocked in China in 2012 right after it reported on the massive wealth held by relatives of President Xi Jinping. The South China Morning Post, based in Hong Kong, was blocked after reporting that a prominent Communist Party official’s son used his father’s connections to make a fortune.
China World’s Worst For Internet, Media Freedom
China is ruled by the Communist Party, which exercises “unchecked authority” to determine all the country’s media coverage; consequently, China has no independent media and very strict internet controls.
According to a study by the think tank Freedom House, China has the world’s least internet freedom; press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks China 176 out of 180 countries on its media freedom index.
Possible Explanations for IPVM Getting Blocked
The most plausible reason for IPVM's block is our critical reporting about major Chinese video surveillance manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua, such as:
- Being the first to reveal that Hikvision and Dahua won over $1.2 billion in state surveillance projects in Xinjiang, a region where Chinese authorities are accused of building a dystopian "surveillance state" and detaining up to one million civilians in re-education camps
- Numerous articles on Hikvision's ties to the Chinese government, its controlling shareholder
- Revealing the use of Hikvision cameras at the US Embassy in Kabul
- Hikvision cameras falsely being labeled as “made in the USA” on GSA, a website for US government contractors
- Hikvision’s use of ‘minority analytics’ that automatically determine if someone is an ethnic minority or not
- Numerous articles on Hikvision and Dahua’s poor cybersecurity and backdoors
This coverage has been impactful, directly resulting in:
- Hikvision and Dahua being targeted for US sanctions due to their massive Xinjiang projects
- The removal of Hikvision cameras at the Kabul embassy amid cybersecurity/espionage concerns
- The removal of Hikvision cameras from the GSA website
- IPVM’s reporting getting cited by mainstream media, such as the Wall Street Journal (which interviewed IPVM founder John Honovich) and the Australian Broadcasting Network (which mentioned IPVM’s Hikvision minority analytics post)
No Way To Know For Sure
While the Chinese government will not explain, James Liebold, a professor at Australia’s La Trobe University and expert on the Xinjiang region, believes that IPVM’s Xinjiang coverage may have pushed Chinese authorities over the edge, explaining:
Critical international reporting and the exposure of human rights abuses in China, as well as the complicity of Chinese and international business in these abuses of power, have pushed the Party-state to try and wrestle back control of the narrative, by both censoring critical content and spewing forth pro-Party propaganda
China has recently gone on a public relations offensive about Xinjiang, claiming that the mass detention of civilians in re-education camps is for their own good.
IPVM Going Forward
China’s ban will unquestionably limit IPVM readers’ access in China.
China-based readers can still use VPN (virtual private network) apps to bypass the Great Firewall and access IPVM and the other thousands of global sites blocked within China. However, China began been cracking down on VPNs this year, making it more difficult for netizens to access non-censored websites.
However, IPVM will continue its independent critical coverage of the industry.