When Google’s search service became widely unavailable in China a few hours ago, it looked like the other shoe had dropped: the authorities were finally retaliating after Google’s decision last week to end its long and miserable submission to self-censorship.
But the truth, as this rather embarrassing statement just put out by Google makes clear, is very different:
Lots of users in China have been unable to search on Google.com.hk today. This blockage seems to have been triggered by a change on Google’s part. In the last 24 hours “gs_rfai” started appearing in the URLs of Google searches globally as part of a search parameter, a string of characters that sends information about the query to Google so we can return the best result. Because this parameter contained the letters rfa the great firewall was associating these searches with Radio Free Asia, a service that has been inaccessible in China for a long time–hence the blockage. We are currently looking at how to resolve this issue.
Who needs censors when you can walk blindly into a giant firewall like this?
Update: This story just keeps getting weirder – see after the jump. Read more