With no exact explanation, the Etherscan.io website, one of the most popular and widely-used Ethereum explorers, was banned from the China mainland as of Tuesday, December 2nd. The many tests performed in this area were unable to access the explorer.
As the Greatfire.org reports, the Ethereum-related website has been inaccessible in the last 90 days in mainland China. Greatfire is an internet platform which monitors the website accessibility in China and creates a database of banned and available websites. Just four months ago, in August, it was still showing the accessibility of etherscan.io in the country, however, as it turns out, China’s Great Firewall has blocked it for whatever reasons.
The monitoring website has noticed the first signs of blockage at the end of October, however, other sources date this event back to September.
And the reaction to it was also pretty snappy – many private and decentralised entities quickly turned to alternative platforms with the same ethereum transactions database.
Censoring the Internet traffic in China
The Great Firewall of China (GFW) is a grand project put forward by the People’s Republic of China. It consists of various regulatory frameworks and technological platforms that are combined to censor internet traffic in mainland China. As its main task, GFW blocks access to mainstream international websites and databases such as Google Search, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc.
The Communist Party of China sees the internet as a part of its “sovereignty”: as the country itself is independent in its internal and foreign matters, the internet too should be protected and separated from the global influence. In the 1990s, the Chinese government enacted a new law regarding cyber crimes which consisted of two clauses – crimes targeting computer networks and crimes carried out using computer networks.
The second part of the legislation, “crimes carried out using computer networks”, is somewhat loose in terms of what exactly constitutes the cyber crimes. And this vagueness was intentional so that the State Council could then make certain interpretations of the law. That’s exactly what happened with the Great Firewall which is the part of this clause.
There are three main applications of the Great Firewall in mainland China:
- Social Control: according to the government, the internet can cause a greater use of freedom of speech which can bring discontent against the government and existing social order;
- Sensitive Content: the government controls the information regarding its popular image;
- Economic Protectionism: the Chinese government has an extensive list of companies regulated and subsidised by it, therefore, it prefers the Chinese to use their services other than the ones of the international companies such as Google.
Speculating about why the Ethereum website was blocked
The scanning record from Greatfire.org shows that the etherscan.io has been inaccessible from at least October 30th. This might be the first-ever case of blockchain explorer being blocked by the GFW; the Firewall has blocked Facebook, Twitter, and other mainstream sources and now, etherscan is one of them.
As of today, the reasons why the Great Firewall blocked etherscan remain unclear. Some speculate that it’s because the platform was used to spread sensitive and “unacceptable” messages across the country.
Since blockchain is an overwhelmingly encrypted environment, it’s impossible for anyone outside the transaction to see the details. And etherscan with its blockchain turned out to be exactly what social campaigners needed at the moment.
Last year, some sources claimed that users encrypted various articles regarding, for instance, the #MeToo movement, the pharmaceutical scandal in China, and many other censored topics in the country. Using this method, the Great Firewall was unable to discover the encrypted articles behind the transactions.
While this blockage is certainly alarming to many crypto-enthusiasts in mainland China, the black market has already found a quick way out of this problem. When the initial signs of blockage were noticed back in September, the financial firms and companies operating on a decentralised platform swapped etherscan.io in favour of cn.etherscan.com, which is basically an alternative website for the same blockchain explorer.
The market is finding its way
According to various sources, this might be yet another case of contradiction between the all-mighty totalitarian government that controls every aspect of its citizens’ lives and the innovative Fintech that’s already changing the global economic layout. The future advancement of blockchain and cryptocurrencies might further deteriorate this situation in mainland China.
For what it’s worth, the attempt to block this blockchain explorer might seem a considerable step for the Chinese government, but etherscan.io is merely a search engine for the actual blockchain transactions. What the government is more afraid of is the actual payments and transactions exchanging Bitcoin, Ether, and other cryptocurrencies. And unfortunately for them, they aren’t stored in any centralised database, which means there’s no way they can be taken down.