Why Did China’s Internet Service Go Down?

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Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and Bloomberg News’ Jordan Robertson examine the possible causes of today’s internet outage in China on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West.”

Almost two decades and i lived there several years.

What's your take on what actually happens here?

Well, i think essentially what we saw was the chinese sensors killing themselves.

This is like a weapon of mass destruction.

They've gotten so sophisticated, their tools are so comprehensive when someone makes a mistake it has nationwide implications.

Some people are saying the great 2003 blackout in north america was caused by a chinese hacker making a mistake, they did it to us and looks like now they've done it to themselves.

Jordan, you've got two potential theories here, that it was a massive cyberattack or the chinese government did it to themselves?

There's an amusing aspect to the question.

When we talk about hacks we think of external hackers but when i saw the report, it was the hack themselves.

With the government creating this censorship it has created a weapon that can easily backfire and in this case it did.

You enter the u.r.l. in the wrong line of some system within the centralized sensorship apparatus and out goes the internet.

It's their own fault, really.

Is it possible in the united states, is the internet so centralized somewhere someone can make one mistake and this would happen?

Not in the same way.

The internet is actually very fragile so mistakes like these happen all the time.

There was a famous example in 2008 where pakistan was trying to block access to youtube and wound up sending 2/3 of the world's youtube traffic to pakistan where it was sinkholed.

2/3 of the world couldn't get access to youtube because pakistan was trying to block it.

The underlying infrastructure of the internet is fragile and this incident exposes that.

Maybe more so in china because in one sense all of the traffic going into one of the most populous countries in the world is essentially being routed through one central set of rules and when those rules change as they did yesterday, this is what happens.

I think what it highlighted, also, you saw it in wall street, you saw all the chinese companies that came to the u.s. to raise money and you see these stocks really selling off today.

The list of stocks sold off this morning and was very aggressive initially.

But a company y.y. down 5% and baidu down 5% and other companies, all down 6%. i think all this morning, with some justification, it isn't just nervous trigger fingers, this exposes the big risk chinese technology companies have because they're operating behind this great wall.

You wonder, what are the implications of something like this.

Obviously u.s. businesses had major difficulties operating in china and the chinese government has effectively shut them out.

But, you know, in terms of chinese companies, this is having a huge effect on them as well, especially today.

Well, certainly, because anybody who works in china knows there will be many times during the week where you will not be able to access a site.

And you know, this is really related, i think, to the problems in the central government right now.

This attack or this problem occurred at the same time where we had this report by the international consortium of investigative journalists about the offshore assets of senior chinese leaders.

So there are coincidences in china.

It's a big country.

But i think these two incidences are actually related because they occur very close in time to each other.

When you look at the chinese leadership, there's been a lot of discussion, are they going to be more conservative or open than their predecessors and there was hope they could be more open.

Certainly the events of the past year make it seem like they're almost moving backwards.

Is that the case?

They're certainly moving backwards because under china's ruler that came into power in 2012 we've seen much more censorship, not just the internet but also expression.

We have all these trials going on 6 anti-corruption activists and this is an important development because there was hope when ping became china's ruler and now there is no hope.

When you look the way the internet is built in china, is there hope it can't be stopped, that the openness that's inherent in the way people communicate openly on the internet, that this is showing the limits of that and the chinese people, because they're starting to rely on it for business, for work, for commerce, as they can't -- gordon, let me ask jordan first.

We've got gordon and jordan.

But you know how much the internet is built.

There is no centralized choke point in the u.s. like there is for china.

Despite that fact, there's an irony in this incident that the site they were trying to block, that the chinese government was trying to block, was a site that helps chinese users get around the great firewall.

This shows there's a lot of interest in these technologies and a lot of internet users in china are able to circumvent the firewall.

I lived there three years and it was standard, everyone had a v.p.n. or virtual private network and you easily could get around the firewall and use facebook, use twitter, for example.

This is something the government has to address because you can't control the internet in this way forever.

As more people want access to these services, they'll to reconcile what their values are in relation to the internet.

Does the chinese government think they can stall out the growth of facebook which has been incredible, the growth of twitter which has been so strong as well, not anywhere near so strong but that the chinese homegrown social networks will be the social networks of the future?

Right.

Or will the global reach around china, if you will, of both twitter and facebook, eclipse the growth of the chinese social network?

We were talking to an expert earlier this week who says he thinks it's a little too late for facebook, even if they were let back in the country, these other social networks have grown so vast it would be impossible for facebook to take hold that kind of way.

We have discussed this fact there are a lot of motivations for what the chinese government presumably is doing in terms of controlling the internet but one of them could very well be to boost up these, you know, chinese businesses, and they've certainly benefited from the chinese government shutting these other companies out, but at this -- you know, in a situation like this, you're seeing the backlash.

Gordon, let me ask you, do the chinese companies -- we see this with the problems that u.s. companies are having with the n.s.a.'s rules.

Do the chinese companies, the chinese entrepreneurs, have much pull with the central government in china?

Will they be able to raise their voices and say hey, you screwed up and ruined our business?

They'll be able to do that but in the balance of power, clearly the party is much more influential.

We've seen, for instance, all of the big v's, all these people on the twitterlike service really be humbled the last three or four months and many being paraded on china's central television and this was the idea of trying to control expression in china so essentially, yes, entrepreneurs are influential but certainly don't have that political power yet.

The one thing that's really important, though, is that most chinese people want free expression and eventually they will prevail.

I recently spoke with the c.e.o. of baidu, one the largest search engines in china, and he said we follow the law and don't censor things willy-nilly based on our personal desire to, we're following the law, point-blank.

If we didn't follow the law, we would be shut down.

Jordan robertson covers security for bloomberg news and gordon chang, author.

We'll continue this

This text has been automatically generated. It may not be 100% accurate.

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