April 17, 2006

How to beat Chinese Censorship — Operation Peking Duck

I argued in a previous post that, as individuals and webpage publishers in the West, we have the solution to Chinese censorship in our own hands. While I can’t have been the first person to think of this, a quick search isn’t turning up other references to the idea. So here is the outline of what I’ll call “Operation Peking Duck.”

(The name comes from my favorite Chinese dish, which unlike other most Chinese dishes is made by wrapping several disparate things up in the same tortilla-like flatbread. It’s also a bit of wordplay on “peek” and/or “duck.”)

The problem is not that Chinese residents are cut off from most outside information. Rather, they’re cut off from information on selected topics, commonly associated with keywords such as “democracy,” “Taiwan,” “Tibet,” etc. Thus, things would be much improved if a fairly limited and slowly-growing set of documents were freely available in China, presenting news about and balanced views of these subjects. 10 gigabytes of reference plus a 1 gigabyte/year of new material doesn’t sound like a lot, but if it were text-only that would actually be a great deal of material to start with. Even a much smaller amount would be highly worthwhile.

The plan (and this is just an idea, but I’m confident that the technological parts are straightforward) would be this:

1. For coordination, there would be a central repository of material to get to the Chinese people. It should be kept somewhere that is pretty well secured against denial-of-service attacks and the like, since the Chinese can play hardball.

2. Ideally, material would be donated by news services and the like. Otherwise, it would have to be written by volunteers.

3. Large numbers of volunteers would each embed some of the material in web pages, at least those being served to Chinese IP addresses. It would be cloaked in a way that makes it hard to filter.

Obviously, any site serving this material is a prime candidate for winding up on a Chinese blocklist. So to make all this work, there are four hurdles to overcome:

At this point Operation Peking Duck is just a personal brainstorm of mine. So before I get serious about trying to promote it — does anybody have thoughts about its feasibility? Specific ideas? Links to sites where these ideas have already been exhaustively discussed?

If so — thank you!!


5 Responses to “How to beat Chinese Censorship — Operation Peking Duck”

  1. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Fighting internet censorship on June 7th, 2006 7:33 am

    […] Ultimately, this becomes a battle of spammers vs. spamfighters, only in this case the spammers are the good guys and many of the recipients want to be spammed. That should put the odds on the side of getting information through the Great Firewall of China (and similar abominations in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, etc.). I’ve previously outlined some of the technical issues that need to be addressed, and I’d be very interested in your thoughts on these. […]

  2. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Scatterchat and Tor vs. The Great Firewall of China on July 25th, 2006 3:37 am

    […] Hacktivismo has just released Scatterchat, an IM tool intended to beat repressive regimes’ firewalls. Unlike other anonymizer types of tools that use Chinese repression mainly as a marketing hook, Scattershot seems to truly be focused on its stated goal. I haven’t figured out whether it does much clever other than leverage Tor, an anonymous network established by the Electronic Freedom Foundation to try to beat traffic analysis. This all sounds like a perfect example of what I’ve been calling for — technological creativity directed at beating technological repression. But I must admit — I question how well Tor can be made to work inside a repressive country. If all internet communications can be monitored, what’s to keep Tor servers from being quickly identified, and their operators punished? And so I continue to doubt that any one magic bullet will ever beat Chinese repression; rather, an ongoing cat-and-mouse-game is needed. • • • […]

  3. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Anonymizer – penetrating the Great Firewalls of China and Iran on January 12th, 2007 1:27 am

    […] That said, Anonymizer’s heart and head both seem to be in the right respective places. What Lance told me doesn’t go nearly as far as my Operation Peking Duck proposal, but it’s in the same direction, right down to requiring the Chinese citizens to have a secure piece of client software, and hoping the authorities don’t criminalize the very act of running that software, or defeat it via a spyware blocker. More fundamentally, he seems to understand that he can’t win long-term without being, in his great phrase, a “freedom spammer.” Indeed, right now a significant fraction of the e-mail list subscribers are actually spam recipients, to provide legal cover should anybody get into trouble simply for being on the list. • • • […]

  4. Bill on October 23rd, 2007 11:46 am

    I disagree with the spammer vs. spamfighters analogy. While in a simplistic way it is similar, it neglects the fact that spam, to be fought effectively, must be unwanted and have public support behind it. If a “spam” goes out to people and it is accepted, or even ignored, no one will be able to prevent its forward progress. The only conceivable would be for there to be a large scale community uprising against it, which I can’t imagine happening. Even if there was, I doubt it would stop it. As the saying goes “the only thing better than good publicity is bad publicity.”

  5. How to protect our freedoms, strengthen developing economies, and make money | The Monash Report on November 6th, 2008 12:57 pm

    […] your websites. (I’ve done that already on four sites.) The other is to help me theorize about a badly needed next-generation improvement on […]

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