In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia Co-Founder Jimmy Wales says he prefers to end the website’s presence in China rather than try to work with or around absurd Chinese censorship. The Great Firewall of China, also known as the Golden Shield Project, is the cyber “arm” of censorship for the government, restricting and blocking politically sensitive material to keep the Chinese public unaware and ignorant. Wales cites “access to knowledge” as a fundamental human right, something which appears to be at the heart of the disagreement between Wikipedia and the Chinese officials.
Wikipedia isn’t the only popular American website to have a run-in with the Chinese. Just about any service that promotes spreading, sharing, or recording of ideas and information has been blocked. Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook (see what else is blocked) are inaccessible to any Chinese civilians that don’t utilize proxy servers. Google, the #1 website on the planet, decided in January to stop censoring its Chinese search engine, and broadcasted a new approach to China after a sophisticated attack on the data of Chinese human-rights activists. Wikipedia’s content is almost entirely public, so they don’t expect this type of attack, but this sort of behavior from the Chinese government shows just how little it can be trusted with data about its citizens.
Wikipedia offers two access options to its users: Secure encrypted access and a widespread, insecure unencrypted access. The encryption, combined with Wikipedia’s anonymity-based user system, protects users and readers from the internet service providers that are now required to track and record information on their customers. China has blocked access to the encrypted access option to Wikipedia, forcing any would-be editors and content writers to expose their identity to the internet service providers.
So what’s at risk? To start, nearly 700,000 articles are now available on the Chinese section of the Wikipedia website, and all of that information is now at risk of being filtered and blocked. In addition to this, accessing this information will be unprotected and attached to whoever reads/edits it, giving the Chinese government a list of its civilians that research and explore the side of China that the government doesn’t want available to its people. China has a tendency to detain and imprison “political offenders,” so this sort of civilian cataloguing will lead to more suffering. To counter this, Wales would rather remove Wikipedia altogether from China’s grasp.