Opera Mini Blocked in China

Opera Mini Welcome Screen in China
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.

35 thoughts on “Opera Mini Blocked in China

  1. Reposted from the MSNBC link below …

    “It’s unclear how much of a blow to its business Google would suffer by pulling out. China has the world’s largest population of Internet users, but Google has struggled to expand in the country, where it has less than 30 percent of the search market, versus more than 60 percent for local rival Baidu Inc.

    The larger effect could be in how global Internet companies operate in China.

    “Google has taken a bold and difficult step for Internet freedom in support of fundamental human rights,” said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a civil-liberties group in Washington, D.C. “No company should be forced to operate under government threat to its core values or to the rights and safety of its users.”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34831106/ns/technology_and_science-security

    BRAVO, strictly imho!

  2. Well, Obama’s speech on the 1st did mention about America being a voice for those who are oppressed.Thanks to W. and his 8 yrs of neocon policy disaster anything good America does will appear cynical and hypocritical:(that make me sad

  3. I am in China and used Opera Mini since long. Now that the Chinese version is forced upon us, no problem as I do not use facebook or twitter. BUT I do need opera mini with an English menu to work with.
    Making forigners use a Chinese browser, trying memory recall of the English version sub menus, is not the way China can go global easily.

  4. Freedom of speech is not a crazy ideology. The ideology that tells you that the Chinese are not worthy of making their own choices is.

    Opera is not dead in China because they chose not to get their employees in China arrested, and they chose not to deprive the Chinese people of choice.

  5. PS: Since when is freedom of speech ‘some crazy ideology with no connections with reality’? I thought it was a deeply rooted and widely accepted philosophy in all free and democratic societies of the world? Oh, that’s right. We’re talking about China …

  6. Indeed. For those who truly value freedom of choice and are stuck behind the GREAT FIREWALL of China, try BOLT @ http://www.getjar.com/mobile/25910/bitstream-bolt/ and / or Teashark’s mobile download page @ http://wap.teashark.com

    Note that the China Internet cops have already blocked direct downloads from both BOLT’s and Teashark’s homepages. If you follow the links above, however, you can still beat them at their silly game of cat and mouse.

    Opera is dead in China, strictly imho. If anybody out there really wants a browser that carries Big Brother’s stamp of approval, knock yourself out.

  7. @John Doe: “Secondly, nobody on this thread is advocating that Opera China employees go to prison. Company executives also have freedom of choice; the freedom to say ‘no’ to censorship – and to pack their bags and pull out.”

    Yes, take away choice from the Chinese people, and get their own employees arrested. What a great plan!

    Isolation never worked either. Isolating China would only make everything worse for the Chinese people. But hey, who cares about the Chinese people, right? We can gladly sacrifice them on the altar of some crazy ideology with no connections with reality!

  8. Apparently “John Doe” and Kent F. Kruhoeffer want to make the choice on behalf of the Chinese people: No more Opera for you!

    I think that is a rather xenophobic, maybe even racist, way of looking at things. Are the Chinese not able to choose for themselves?

    No, the right thing to do is to keep makint it possible to use browsers even behind the firewall. Some browsing is better than no browsing.

    Anyone who wants Opera and others to pull out are guilty of the above, because they want to make this choice on behalf of the Chinese people and I frankly find that rather disgusting.

    I also find it disgusting that Kruhoeffer uses the “last word” as if he is somehow the one who should get the last word in some weird attempt at censoring me because I speak out against the racism against the Chinese (those who want to make choices for them).

    Geez.

  9. Dearest Trev, you have succeeded in confusing the issue. Kent is the one arguing for freedom of choice. YOU are the one defending censorship. Clever tactic but you’re not fooling anyone.

    Secondly, nobody on this thread is advocating that Opera China employees go to prison. Company executives also have freedom of choice; the freedom to say ‘no’ to censorship – and to pack their bags and pull out.

  10. Trev, I am a little suspicious of people who feel they have to have the last word in a debate. Do you work for Opera China? Are you in China? Have you ever even been to China? You mention freedom of choice in one of your many replies above. What freedom are you talking about? What choice are you talking about? Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and a host of other news websites and blogs are blocked here on a daily basis. They have even gone so far as to block access to mainstream sites like Flickr and Hotmail on the anniversary of Tianamen, for Christ’s sake. Google image search turns up nothing but little red x’s on a daily basis, and that happens when searching for photos of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Google’s top China executive quit just recently; see CNET Asia for details on that story. I wonder why? I guess he found the freedom of choice here just too overwhelming. Stop defending censorship and Big Brother. Or at least come clean and tell us what your hidden agenda is.

  11. If you are indeed a libertarian, then you would presumably push for trade rather than war. Isolating China would only make matters worse.

  12. Trev , Let me clarify my stance.I am no Ideologue. I am 100% progressive libertarian. The Chinese alongside most of Russian and U.S. gov. are a corporate plutocratic kleptocracy.The point being, just because news channels tell me there is a boogy man …dont mean I buy it.I never did. They started indoctrinating me very early that government is not the answer, thats socialism and its evil we are for the most part taught.

  13. @Kent F. Kruhoeffer, your argument is flawed:

    # It would appear that principles have been replaced by
    # economic greed. In the end, nobody cares about anything
    # except the bottom line. Toe the line. Don’t question
    # authority, and for God’s sake, don’t stand in the way
    # of profit.

    This assumes that the objectively good thing for Opera to do would be to let their employees in China be imprisoned, and become completely blocked in China.

    First: They are not “not questioning authority”. They are complying with local laws because they had no choice.

    However, I made the case above that Opera is doing good by staying. It is quite amazing the arrogance you and others are displaying, by arguing that the Chinese people should not be given the choice to use Opera or not.

    Why should your ideology trump their ability to choose?

    If Opera was completely blocked, the Chinese people would not be able to choose.

    And finally, even now there are several ways to work around the firewall. If Opera was completely blocked, all of these holes would have disappeared.

    Opera did the right thing. And it has got nothing to do with profit above everything else. It has to do with obligations not only towards blind ideology and simple solutions from armchair revolutionaries, but towards Opera’s customers, users and partners in China.

  14. Kerstin:

    # The last time someone thought it’s better to make a deal
    # with the devil in hope of calming down the devil, was
    # before World War II began. Europe thought that if they
    # give Hitler the land he wants, then he won’t proceed
    # to war. How wrong they were.

    So Kerstin’t suggestion is armed war against China. Wow. That kind of War Hawk rhetoric would be expected from Bush and friends…

    I guess I shouldn’t even bother responding because of this crazy idea, but for the benefit of other people, I will:

    # To isolate China right from the start would have actually
    # been the best way to bring that regime down.

    On the contrary. History shows that isolation will only make things worse for the people.

    # The argument that a company has to obey local laws bla bla –
    # ridiculous.

    It is far from ridiculous. It is the way the world works. The fact is, Opera had to comply, or they would have been completely blocked. So the question is not whether they should have obeyed or not, but whether being blocked would be the right thing to do. As I will show below, having Opera blocked would be WORSE for the Chinese people.

    # All those of you who think that Opera had no decision: Well,
    # then all the Nazi collaborators who were oppressing and killing
    # people, then those people also had no choice, right? They
    ¤ were only taking orders, right?

    No, they were directly and objectively harming people. Opera is not.

    In fact it is easy to make the case that Opera did the right thing. Being completely blocked in China would have deprived the Chinese people of choice. Flawed choice is better than no choice.

    And there are still several ways to work around the firewall in Opera Mini. If Opera was completely blocked, these would disappear, and make it more difficult for the Chinese to bypass the firewall.

    # BULLSHIT! Opera had a choice, but profit is more important for
    # them.

    Opera’s choice was to continue to offer choice to the Chinese people. Some Opera is better than no Opera.

    The Chinese people would have been worse off with no Opera because they would have been deprived of choice. Why should you make the choice for them? Let the Chinese people decide whether they want to use Opera or not.

    Your arrogance is astounding, thinking that the Chinese people should not be offered the choice to use Opera or not. Truly amazing.

  15. I sincerely hope Chinese government will allow someone to develop mobile network infrastructure in China. I wish companies like Opera Software are allowed to continue. Although users of Opera Mini can no longer access many Internet services outside GFW, I find it equally important to develop national mobile information services like weather, news, timetables and social media services. Importance to use those services easily and in your own language should not be forgotten.

  16. The talk about Nazi collaborators is Godwinian nonsense, Opera is not making software to censor users or restrict the access to the Internet. The Opera Mini setup happened to elude the Great Firewall for the longest time, and now it doesn’t.

    I understand the annoyance of people in China now losing a means to access many important international web sites, and I think it is annoying too, but Opera Mini (or for that matter Bolt or other similar services) uses servers just like any web site, and like them can easily be blocked if the government so chooses. Opera is just providing as good Internet access as it can under the circumstances.

    A better approach would be to slowly convince Chinese government that they are losing business by a too restrictive firewall (and similar attempts to control the PCs in their territory), and when blocked content includes mainstream sites like Facebook, they clearly do. Not only Kent F. Kruhoeffer would be less inclined to set up shop in China when given such restrictions.

  17. China already had it’s chance to play with protectionism during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Free trade is not evil as such but it can be used for evil or for good. There’s no return back to stone age. It were traders who first made great inventions, which resulted in mass communication and freedom of speech in democratic countries. Traders were first one to use newsletters to share information. If you gag media, then you gag freedom of speech.

  18. First, I agree with you, Trev, that my comments were a bit extreme. Using the word ‘Internet Nazi’ was probably not the best choice, but I was angry at having lost my window to the free world. I’d also like to point out, for the record, that I have been a loyal Opera fan for many years. I unnderstand the pressure they are (were) under. I was venting – for lack of a better word. I also agree with Kerstin’s comments. It would appear that principles have been replaced by economic greed. In the end, nobody cares about anything except the bottom line. Toe the line. Don’t question authority, and for God’s sake, don’t stand in the way of profit. That’s a shame.

  19. The last time someone thought it’s better to make a deal with the devil in hope of calming down the devil, was before World War II began. Europe thought that if they give Hitler the land he wants, then he won’t proceed to war. How wrong they were.

    To isolate China right from the start would have actually been the best way to bring that regime down. But the Chinese regime is taking advantage of the Western governments and companies’ greed. The Chinese regime knows that they all wanna make profit and get their share. But that regime wouldn’t exist anymore if the others wouldn’t play their game.

    The argument that a company has to obey local laws bla bla – ridiculous. If something bad is a law it doesn’t make it any more just. But when Iran is blocked out because of its policy or Iraq is attacked in order to ‘free the people from the Taliban regime’, then all this is swallowed by the same idiots who are now endorsing the Chinese regime.

    “MAKING DEALS WITH THE DEVIL would be a more appropriate title for this story.” – this acutally hits the nail on the head.

    All those of you who think that Opera had no decision: Well, then all the Nazi collaborators who were oppressing and killing people, then those people also had no choice, right? They were only taking orders, right?

    BULLSHIT! Opera had a choice, but profit is more important for them.

    The funny thing is: All those companies and governments that are trading with the Chinese regime now, all those will be overtaken by the very same regime when the time comes. They are making profit now, yes. But they are blind for the big plan of the Chinese government: Grow big and take world leadership on all markets. An oppressive regime crawling for dominance on the world’s global stage, it’s a nightmare. How dumb are those who are playing their game. It’s really like helping the devil.

  20. @Matt: “When multinational Corporations/industry merge interests with government its called facism according to mussilni. Now they call it capitalism since renaming it helps them keep selling it.China is the model of raw capitalism and this demonstrates it.”

    It is not in Opera’s interest to censor web content. They were forced to by the government. Huge difference.

    You, too, should use your brain and realize that isolating China would do no good what so ever. If the Chinese were left alone, they would have been even worse off because of their government.

    You apparently only think of yourself and your ideology. You don’t care about how things work in practice, and how your views affect other people negatively.

    You claim to want to help the Chinese people, but your comments all point to someone who doesn’t care about them, and would gladly sacrifice them on the altar of his ideology.

  21. @Kent F. Kruhoeffer

    “MAKING DEALS WITH THE DEVIL would be a more appropriate title for this story.”

    You are assuming that Opera had a choice. If Opera was to continue to operate in China, they had no choice.

    Leaving China would be a bad thing to do because the Chinese people need MORE western companies there, not fewer.

    “All this talk in the media about how China is leading the economic recovery and opening up – BULLSHIT.”

    And you think isolating China would make things better? Yeah, we can just look at North Korea to see how well that worked!

    Leaving China would make things worse for the people there.

    “Opera should be ashamed for agreeing to their demands.”

    No, you should be ashamed for your narrow-minded views. Blaming Opera for complying with local laws and demands from the government is just silly.

    And if the government is as evil as you say it is, then Opera’s staff in China would have been in SERIOUS trouble if they hadn’t complied.

    Use your brain instead of posting narrow-minded rants please.

  22. This is very unfortunate. I suppose opera has set a filter based on the original ip address that’s forwarded to the opera servers. But after you download and install the chinese version it shouldn’t do that filtering no more(may be it takes some headers from the opera mini client as well).

    I have one raw guess here. If I take the chinese client and change the server to that of international version, it might help overcome the firewall for users in China. If someone is interested I can post a modded version here.

    @Dennis. If this is against your site policy, let me know, so that I can avoid future related messages. Thanks.

  23. When multinational Corporations/industry merge interests with government its called facism according to mussilni. Now they call it capitalism since renaming it helps them keep selling it.China is the model of raw capitalism and this demonstrates it.

  24. MAKING DEALS WITH THE DEVIL would be a more appropriate title for this story. I am in China, and when Opera directed me to the China server, I was shocked and so pissed off I switched over to BOLT, although it’s probably only a matter of time before they block access to BOLT as well. All this talk in the media about how China is leading the economic recovery and opening up – BULLSHIT. The China Internet Nazis are still blocking access to Youtube, Facebook, etc and stick their slimy paws into anything they please. Opera should be ashamed for agreeing to their demands. In 2 months I’m outta here, and I assure you, I am counting down the days. This is not a free country – and the WORST internet experience of my entire life, and I’ve lived in 10 countries over the past 48 years.

  25. “But, I think that Opera made a serious PR mistake and damaged their image in trying to make the blockage sound like a good thing for end users.”

    What if it was the government which gave them the exact wording?

    Look at the English text. It’s not even proper English. I’m guessing they added the exact text the government told them. If they hadn’t, they would have been completely gone by now.

  26. Serola, I agree that “better browsing experience” doesn’t necessarily mean uncensored access to the Web. Further an Opera Mini accessing a censored internet could be seen as “better” than no Opera Mini at all.

    But, I think that Opera made a serious PR mistake and damaged their image in trying to make the blockage sound like a good thing for end users.

    The landing page shown to to Chinese users of the international version of Mini should not have tried to sugar coat the bad news. Even a simple “Access Denied” would have been better than Orwellian newspeak of a “better browsing experience”.

    Feeding BS your users never works and in this case it seems to have focused anger on Opera rather that the true culprit, the Chinese government.

  27. I suspect that Opera would keep being zipped and never issue an official annuncement to express what happened in China and why.
    We could do nothing but life still goes on

  28. P.S. Slogan “…better browsing experience” can mean many things, but I think it does not imply to “unlimited internet access”.

  29. The role of business enterprises as I see it:

    1)Companies should be treated as citizens, and therefore they should have the same rights and obligations.

    2) Companies should respect the laws of the countries where they operate.

    3) Companies should never force their employees to breach laws or risk their wellbeing.

    4) Companies sometimes exaggerate in their advertisements, but it does not mean they should provide what they say in those advertisement. Instead companies can be asked to correct their advertisements.

    5) Freeware and adware does not entitle for any compensations, but users should respect the end user license agreement.

    6) Companies are not charity organizations.

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