Google Analytics Has Been Operating Behind "The Great Firewall" Say Libert and Repnikova

In an op-ed in The Guardian today, two members of Annenberg’s community made a surprising revelation: Despite Google’s highly-publicized exit from the Chinese market five years ago, the company has continued to operate behind “the Great Firewall” through the widespread use of Google Analytics.

This op-ed by doctoral student Tim Libert and postdoctoral fellow Maria Repnikova ​shows that while Google search and other services have indeed been blocked in mainland China, Google Analytics remains active, capturing a rich amount of data about Chinese users. This holds serious implications for Google’s potential to return to China as well as its ethical stance on media freedom, which had driven it out of the Chinese market in the first place.​

The revelations presented in The Guardian draw on a larger study by Libert and Annenberg Ph.D. student Bo Mai on China’s internet governance. In Mai and Libert’s study of 465 popular Chinese websites, they found that 36% of the sites contained hidden code to Chinese users’ computers to Google’s servers.

 What’s more, the majority of these connections were neither blocked by the Great Firewall nor encrypted.

This considerable flow of user data stands to give Google a significant advantage if and when it does return to the Chinese market — Google is reportedly in talks with China to open a new Android app store.

“Google Analytics has continued to transmit data across the Great Firewall despite other services being blocked—something that is unlikely an accident for either Google or Chinese internet regulators,” write Repnikova and Libert.

Click here to read, “Google is Returning to China? It Never Really Left.”

 

Media Contact: Julie Sloane, jsloane@asc.upenn.edu, 215-746-1798