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Google Says Mobile Services Now Mostly Accessible in China

Google said its mobile services in China were fully accessible or subject only to small-scale blocking, upgrading them late on Wednesday from "partially blocked" on a status page.

The change could signal an easing of tensions after the Internet search giant angered China by ending censorship of search results for users in the country. The status change means most Chinese users should have no problem accessing Google search from their mobile phones, even though Google is allowing politically sensitive search results to appear.

Tests on two mobile phones with GPRS data connections in Beijing showed Google's Hong Kong search site could be accessed on Thursday in China. That site was unavailable in a similar test last week. Google's mobile services include search, maps and news.

Users in China may still face troubles because the services censored by local mobile network operators around the country can vary, and Google's status label still means its services could see some blocking.

Google last month began redirecting Chinese users from its old China-based search site, Google.cn, to its Hong Kong site at Google.com.hk. Google had conformed to Chinese government demands to censor results on its China search engine, but that content -- such as certain information about the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader -- will turn up in results on its Hong Kong site.

There has been some fallout. China was quick to condemn Google's move as "totally wrong." One China partner, Web portal owner Tom Online, dropped Google and turned to rival Baidu.com for search service on its site after Google's announcement. Mobile carrier China Unicom has said it does not plan to put Google search on its phones.

Google's China status page this week also started listing its Picasa photo-sharing service as fully blocked. Picasa has long been inaccessible in China, but the status page previously listed it as partially blocked. A Google spokeswoman confirmed Picasa was blocked in China.

The status page began listing Google's mobile services as partially blocked in China over a week ago.

While Google's move from China to Hong Kong means it is no longer censoring results itself, China controls the flow of Internet data from all Web sites outside the country via the Great Firewall, a term that describes the servers and software dedicated to filtering traffic. That means that Chinese users will still have problems loading certain search results pages from Google's Hong Kong site, or clicking through some links.

China requires all companies operating Web sites inside its borders to censor material that is politically sensitive or morally undesirable, such as pornography. All Web sites outside of China face the Great Firewall as a barrier.

Hong Kong, while technically part of China, runs under special rules negotiated by China and the U.K. before the British government handed back the territory in 1997, including certain freedoms of speech.

Traffic between Hong Kong and China is subject to filtering by the Great Firewall because Hong Kong is considered outside the mainland's domestic Internet, said Andrew Lih, a professor of journalism and director of new media at the University of Southern California, in a blog post. He said users often see a "connection reset" message when a search is interrupted by the firewall.

Some local-language searches by users in China on Google.com.hk appear to be subject to less censorship than they are on self-censoring sites like that run by Baidu, China's largest Internet search provider. Other searches face far stricter controls.

A search from Beijing in simplified Chinese for terms such as 'Tiananmen Square incident,' referring to the day in 1989 when Chinese tanks rolled into central Beijing and crushed a student-led pro-democracy movement, return politically sensitive results. Similar searches on Baidu return sites with less sensitive content, making the company's censorship appear more effective than that done by China's Great Firewall. However, a similar search on Google.com.hk about the Dalai Lama, who Beijing accuses of seeking independence for Tibet, turns up a connection reset, a sign the Great Firewall is at work.

Some less controversial searches from Beijing on Google.com.hk also suffer. Searches for any simplified Chinese term that includes the surnames of China's top leaders, President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping, lead to a connection reset, so Chinese users can't see any information about them. The trouble extends to a number of harmless words that use the characters Hu, Wen and Xi. For example, the Chinese word for "temperature" -- "wen du" -- returns a connection reset, as does the word for "to study" -- "xue xi."

A Google spokesperson said some sensitive terms are being blocked by China's firewall and noted that "this behavior of the firewall is not unique to Google.com.hk, it occurs with any domain located outside the firewall."

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