Being online in China reminds me of using a computer in many of our Oklahoma public schools.* In September 2007 after returning from Shanghai I wrote the post, “Content filtering in Communist China versus an Oklahoma school.” At that time when I was presenting at a conference in China, I used a paid, subscriber account on Proxify.com to bypass national content filters and access many sites I needed to both use and show to teachers. Three years later in Shanghai, this week, it’s clear the content filtering situation has become MUCH more severe and restricted here. Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are three of the sites NOW blocked in China which were accessible in 2007. This is a partial list of websites I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to access via my “normal” hotel Internet connection, because they are blocked:

www.dropbox.com
sites.google.com – this includes the following sites:
– wiki.wesfryer.com
– wiki.powerfulingredients.com
– wiki.k12onlineconference.org
– wiki.celebrateoklahoma.us
pbworks.com
twitter.com
facebook.com
wetpaint.com
youtube.com
blogger.com
images from flickr.com

My solution this year to bypass Chinese censors is Astrill VPN. I’m currently on a seven day free trial.

Astrill VPN

Tim Lauer recommended Astrill, along with several other cohort leaders here in Shanghai at Learning 2.010. Tim’s using it not only on his laptop but also his iPad. Astrill runs as a background application on my MacBook Pro laptop. According to the program’s overview page:

Astrill is a professional fast and secure VPN that protects your privacy on-line and makes you anonymous all the time while surfing on the net. With Astrill, you can feel safe every time you turn your PC on and you do not have to worry about your personal data being stolen by somebody else. Astrill makes your internet activity completely covered, not even your ISP will know what sites you have visited. Astrill comes out of the box with UK and USA IPs, which in combination with easy few-step installation and 24/7 support makes it one of the best VPN solutions in the market.

I’m not as interested in Astrill for its anonymizing power as I am for its ability to create a “secure tunnel” for my Internet traffic, so I’m not censored by the firewall erected by the Chinese government.

Astrill VPN

The previous screenshot gives a partial indication of my current downstream and upstream Internet speeds from here in my Shanghai hotel, using Astrill. VPN tunneling always slows down an Internet connection, but in this case it’s a situation of accessing websites more slowly or not at all. Here are the results from a speedtest.net test:

Bandwidth in Shanghai

Does it strike you as ironic that Tim Lauer, the principal at Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, is providing advice on VPNs and content filter circumvention?! I feel like we’re both teenagers in a current U.S. high school, which (like many of our U.S. public schools) has not yet “Unmasked the Digital Truth” and continues to filter Internet content like an authoritarian, east Asian government I know.

Being subjected to Chinese Internet content filtering encourages me further to plot ways to help facilitate a distributed, social media action campaign in the United States for balanced content filtering in our schools. My family and I don’t live in China, and I’m tired of having so many of our school leaders in the United States act like we do.

See these other past posts for more related ideas and discussion:

  1. Cognitive dissonance from the school internet filtering message (April 2010)
  2. Criticism of School District Content Filtering Policies is not a personal attack on ALL tech directors (April 2010)
  3. The dilemma presented by China’s content filtering of my current handouts website (November 2009)
  4. Issues with tiered content filtering (March 2008)
  5. Advocating for differentiated content filtering (Feb 2008)

* NOTE: I want to acknowledge that several of our Oklahoma school districts DO have “balanced” Internet content filtering policies. Howe Public Schools is one exemplar district in this regard. Unfortunately there are not many. There ARE more, however, in Oklahoma as well as in other states. I hope a coordinated campaign for balanced content filtering in our schools can (some day) help amplify as well as showcase schools like Howe whose leaders act like they live in the United States, rather than China, when it comes to content filtering.

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  • Wes

    Didn’t realise that blocking in China was getting worse … thanks for the info.

    Sorry won’t see you in Shanghai

  • I’m sorry to miss seeing you here as well, Chris. 🙂

  • Wes,

    If having your conference materials available for particpants is one of your concerns, I wonder if setting up a web server on your laptop (and keeping a copy of all your handouts for a conference such as this available on it) might be a work-around. While in conference, the participants could access your handouts over the local intranet (assuming you are all connected to a common network).

    Not 24/7 access, of course. But might be handy in a conference.

    Regards,
    Kent

  • Kent: That is a good suggestion, but I need a solution which provides the access after the conference and not just locally. I’ve considered installing and running my own wiki software on my hosting account. I’ve experimented a bit (but it’s been awhile) with TikiWiki. (wiki.speedofcreativity.org) I’ve also experimented with MediaWiki by installing it on our main Storychasers’ wiki. The problem with both of these solutions is that, unlike WikiSpaces, it’s not straightforward to embed media there. I need to work more on that… I think it probably IS possible, I just need to spend more time figuring it out.

    It’s good to be challenged in this way with content filtering issues because it begs the question: “Do I want my materials to be available/accessible in the most populous country in the world?” (China) The answer to that question should be yes, if possible. It is possible, but it means NOT putting my materials on a website like PBworks (as I did from 2006 to 2010 on teachdigital.pbworks.com) or on Google sites.

    I think a net result of these experiments is going to be me eventually migrating to a self-hosted wiki on my own domain…. At this point I’d probably go with MediaWiki, but I’m interested in exploring other options and solutions too.

    Thanks for offering the suggestion. 🙂

  • Richard

    I`m using this VPN from China:
    http://highspeedvpn.info/

    It unblocks all sites like YouTube or Facebook.

  • Ann Moroz

    My friend is China uses usa vpn http://vpn-account.com/bestvpnforchina.html to bypass china’s proxy. It works fine.

  • Ann Moroz

    My friend is China uses usa vpn http://vpn-account.com/bestvpnforchina.html to bypass china’s proxy. It works fine.

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