Tuber experiments with connecting Chinese internet to the rest of the world

Tuber experiments with connecting Chinese internet to the rest of the world
Source: Jason Lee, Reuters
China’s “Great Firewall” has long insulated China’s internet from the rest of the world, subjecting it to tight control and censorship, with many “Western” services unavailable in the country.

Before its removal in early October, the Chinese browser tool Tuber allowed internet users access to services long unavailable in the country, such as YouTube and Google, in what was an unusual glimpse over China’s so-called “Great Firewall.”

The app appeared without significant fanfare on Chinese mobile phone app stores, with a desktop counterpart launching on PCs, but within two days had already attracted over five million downloads on Huawei’s Android app store alone.

Questions remain over the exact details as to the app’s origins, as well as its eventual fate, having been abruptly pulled from the internet and mobile app vendors.

China’s “Great Firewall” has long insulated China’s internet from the rest of the world, subjecting it to tight control and censorship, with many “Western” services unavailable in the country.

While Tuber’s window to the rest of the world carried familiar signs of said censorship, the app’s brief trial and apparent success could show that steps, however cautious, are being taken by China’s government and corporations toward the opening of China’s internet with the rest of the world.

The “Great Firewall”

China’s internet has long been under strict government control, especially under the leadership of current Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, China adopted its “Golden Shield Project,” the first foundation of what later came to be known as its “Great Firewall,” the mass censorship and insulation of its internet. The project established a database of all internet users in the country, surveilling them for accessing any content deemed “inappropriate.”

Under Xi’s administration, China began blocking Facebook’s WhatsApp and clamped down on VPN services that were used throughout the country so as to access services unavailable to Chinese addresses.

The strict government hold on the internet and the content that is allowed to be aired there has made some American companies think twice about expanding their services to China. In 2010, Google pulled its search engine service from China following attacks from government-backed hackers and disputes over censored content.

With an estimated 900 million internet users in China, the government argues that a strict control of the internet and its content is necessary for maintaining social order and safeguarding the country’s national security.

As expressed by China’s former leader, Deng Xiaoping, who led China through a period of transformation into its “socialist market economy,” the saying “when you open the window, the flies come in,” seems to guide China’s internet censorship policy.

Tuber’s experiment

Within this background of tight censorship and government control over the internet ecosystem, Tuber’s experiment, however brief, appears transformational.

The app appeared on mobile app stores without prior announcement, with a desktop counterpart,, launching alongside it.

Users who downloaded the app, with some five million ultimately doing this, could access a whole host of services long unavailable in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google.

In return, users first agreed to provide their mobile phone numbers and other identifying information and agreed to a terms of service which consented to the sharing of their data “with the relevant authorities” if they “actively watch or share” content that breaches the constitution or is otherwise deemed a national security threat.

Certain searches on the likes of Google and YouTube were also censored through Tuber, with zero search results returned on searches of “Tiananmen Square” or “Xi Jinping,” in tests done by TechCrunch.

Though the circumstances of its origins are uncertain, the app appeared to be backed by Chinese cybersecurity giant Qihoo 360 Technology Co. Ltd., which has close ties to China’s government and regularly advises the government on cybersecurity matters.

As reported by Bloomberg, then, given the nature of the service Tuber provided, “it’s unlikely that Qihoo developed and distributed the app without Beijing’s blessing.”

As Yik Chan Chin, a researcher in media and communications policy at the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou argues, the app represented China’s caution in “opening a little bit more” while recognizing the importance of letting “Chinese people have more interaction with the outside world and also to understand the world better.”

If Tuber was a government experiment in exposing Chinese internet users to a wider internet, it was swiftly removed after securing millions of downloads and publicity online. Both the app and its PC counterpart appear to have been fully removed.

But this may yet prove Tuber’s experiment was a success. As Fergus Ryan of Australian Strategic Policy Institute argues, Tuber, if anything proves that there is a “pent-up appetite for access to the wider global internet in China.”

Tuber’s brief foray above the “Great Firewall” may prove to be the first stage in what is a longer process of transforming China’s internet and censorship apparatus, with further steps to open to the wider world yet to come.

Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at