CC Carsten Ulrich Some rights reserved
Over the weekend users of the international version of Opera Mini, no matter what site they tried to visit, landed on a screen with the message "For better browsing experience, please upgrade to Opera Mini China version at mini.opera.com". A blogger in China, Carsten Ulrich posted the screen shot shown here.
The international version of Opera Mini uses proxy servers in Europe and the U.S. and has apparently long been a popular way for Chinese users to bypass the "Great Firewall of China" which blocks many popular sites including Twitter and Facebook. This change, not surprisingly, was unpopular in China with many users blaming Opera. CNet Asia has some coverage of the uproar.
Opera today issued the following statement;
"On Friday November 20, 2009, Opera Software started directing users of the international version of the Opera Mini mobile browser in China to the Chinese version. Opera Mini is the world's most popular mobile browser with more than 35 million monthly users worldwide. The difference between the Chinese and the international versions is that the former connects to compression servers within China while the latter connects to servers outside China. In more direct terms, this means that users of Opera Mini in China are using Opera's servers in China to fetch, compress and process the Web pages before they are returned to the mobile phone. Benefits enjoyed by Opera Mini users in any country, including China, are higher speed, lower costs and an overall improved mobile Web browsing experience. Opera Software is not making statements regarding the background for this decision."
So what happened? No one outside of Opera and the Chinese government really knows but I suspect that Opera was told that it had to block access to the international servers as a condition of continuing to operate in China.
Opera has an office in Beijing and a server farm to handle requests from the Chinese version of Opera Mini. Opera has negotiated deals with Chinese mobile operators and handsets makers to bundle Opera Mini with devices sold in China.
As a public company Opera has a duty to shareholders to protect their Chinese investment. You can't really expect them to walk away from China. However I do wish that they had been a little more honest with their Chinese users. An internet without Facebook, Twitter and hundreds of other sites hardly sounds like a "...better browsing experience"! Why not tell users the truth and deliver a message that their access has been blocked at the request of the Chinese government.