By Alexandra Burlacu | Nov 10, 2012 12:56 PM EST
Google saw all of its services, including its search engine, Gmail, and Maps , blocked in China on Friday night and into Saturday, Nov. 10.
The disruption in China comes as the 18th Communist Party Congress gets under way. The Communist Party Congress meeting occurs once in a decade to appoint new government leadership.
Watchdog group GreatFire first reported the Google disruption in China on Friday, Nov. 9, announcing that all Google services were blocked in the country.
"It's the first time since we started tracking online censorship in China in February last year that this happened," the group said in a Friday blog post. "The subdomains www.google.com, mail.google.com, google-analytics.com, docs.google.com, drive.google.com, maps.google.com, play.google.com and perhaps many more are all currently DNS poisoned in China."
Google itself confirmed the disruption in its online transparency report, which monitors the accessibility of its services across the world.
"We've checked and there's nothing wrong on our end," said a Google spokeswoman Christine Chen.
While the company said it had not registered any technical problems, it did not mention whether it believed its services had been blocked by the government or had fallen victims to hacking.
Despite all the bells and whistles surrounding the event, China's Party Congress takes place behind closed doors. Reporters are not allowed in, and the government has imposed a number of restrictions in the days preceding the meeting. Such restrictions range from replacing books in bookstores to banning balloons because they could spread messages of protest. Internet speeds have slowed as well.
The apparent ban on Google's services seems to be the latest in a series of increasingly sophisticated online censorship by the Chinese government. The disruption also comes just two weeks after China blocked Internet access to The New York Times, following a controversial article about the family wealth of the country's prime minister.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time that an issue arises between Google and China. Back in 2010, the search giant claimed it had been the victim of some serious hacking attacks originating from China. As a result, Google removed its Chinese language search engine from the country and started redirecting traffic to the Hong Kong version of its popular search engine. Moreover, Google's YouTube has been blocked in China for years, since 2009. Gmail has also been partially blocked on several occasions.
Google is the second-most popular search engine in China behind Baidu, and is also among the top five most used Web sites in the country on a daily basis. As GreatFire suggested, the blockade could backfire on Chinese officials, raising awareness of the extent of censorship in the country.
"The fact that Google is blocked now is surely no coincidence," noted GreatFire. "The big question is whether it will be unblocked again once the congress is over. We will closely monitor developments."
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