amw (amw) wrote,

how state censorship destroys curiosity

The past few days i have noticed myself resisting clicking on links because i know they go to sites that are blocked by the Great Firewall.

It seems that living in China, especially since the government blocked Wikipedia, i had started to train myself to not even bother clicking on certain links. I knew that they either wouldn't work, or i'd have to wait for the VPN to start up (if it would even be allowed to connect that day) and then reload the page and hope for the best.

So i just stopped clicking on stuff. I'd think to myself "do i really need to know if Glacier National Park crosses into another state?" and answer no, then abort my search before it even began. I let my curiosity die.

It's happened to me numerous times now. And each time i am shocked again at how fucked up it is, and how i didn't feel angrier about it when i lived there.

Or, searching for news, you can't search for news in China. Google is blocked completely. Bing is not blocked, but the news tab in the search results doesn't exist. Chinese search engines and social media websites do have their own news tabs, but all the content is approved by the government and often heavily editorialized, so it's effectively useless for the sorts of things you want to read the news for in other countries.

The Chinese internet is also chock-full of pop-ups and scams. I know people think they have it bad in the west, but you don't even know. Chinese internet companies intercept all HTTP content and rewrite it to insert ads into websites that weren't originally there. Even cellphone keyboards have ads in them. It's that bad.

And then, i open my maps app, and it still hasn't downloaded the offline map for BC, and i still can't zoom in to street level to see where i am. I spent hours today figuring that out.

It turns out if you install Windows in China, you can only get the Chinese government-approved maps. That is, the Chinese government's internationally unrecognized idea of where its borders are (notably enclosing Taiwan and all of the South China Sea right up to the coastlines of Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam). You also cannot get the local names for any city in the world, you only get the Chinese name of the city, written in Chinese.

Oh. And if you are outside China, you cannot actually download any maps at all. Because, it seems, the Great Firewall not only blocks people inside China from getting to websites in the rest of the world, it also blocks people outside China from getting in to certain sites.

It took me a bunch of faffing about with Powershell, Regedit, Task Manager and Settings to reset my Windows Maps back to a global version that was actually able to download maps of the rest of the world.

That made me wonder how much other shit in my Windows has got the special "hacked by Chinese" version on it.

As a way of using up my money that i was not allowed to transfer out of the country, i bought a new computer and phone before leaving. I specifically bought a Microsoft Surface and Google Pixel so i would have the most brand name international shit to return to Canada with, the kinds of things the government would have a harder time hacking. Foreign consumers expect a bit of hacked shit on their Huawei, but they'd be pretty upset to find it on their Apple, you know? And yet...

I don't have anything to hide. If the Chinese government thought i was worth the effort, they would've fucked with me when i was still in the country. But it's not so much about fear of the government and more about annoyance that they might be messing with with my shit that i really need to have working here over the next few months (that is: GPS and maps).

All my electronics have now been switched back to English (US) language and English (Canada) region and i reinstalled as much stuff as i could without a full reset. I suppose that was one useful outcome of today.

It could just all be paranoia. I am going more than a little stir crazy. But my jet lag is subsiding. So things are improving, sort of.

I have a whole nother drama going in that my bank cards were remotely canceled on Friday, and i have been locked out of my online banking, and my bank won't allow me to reactivate any of this until i visit a branch in person, which i can't because i'm still in quarantine, but i'll leave that for another post.
Tags: china, teh internets
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