China bans Apple for Tibet protest

Olympic athletes listening to protest songs sees iTunes blocked.

Chinese authorities have blocked Apple's iTunes Music Store, apparently because 'more than 40' athletes have listened to protest songs by bands such as Rush and Alanis Morissette.

The US Tibetan activist group The Art of Peace Foundation invited Olympic athletes to download the album 'Songs for Tibet' free of charge. The Foundation claimed that this mark of protest would communicate that "compassion and non-violence can overcome intolerance and oppression - beautiful ideals to be associated with the Olympic spirit."

On Monday iTunes stopped working in China - apparently another example of the so-called "Great Firewall of China." The size of the Chinese Internet police is estimated at more than 30,000.

The Chinese government's Information Office reported that "angry netizens" were "rallying together to denounce Apple in offering 'Songs for Tibet' for purchase."

"The predictably hostile response to the album from Chinese internet users, as reported by an official Chinese media outlet, reflects continued attempts to suppress any support for Tibet at a time of crisis for the Tibetan people, as well as the level of entrenched misinformation about Tibet propagated by the Beijing government among the Chinese public," Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The newspaper also reports a response from Apple claimed by a local blogger. She claims that Apple's customer support sent her the following message:

"iTunes is not being blocked in China from our end, but access to the iTunes Store IS restricted in some areas in China. This would also explain why it's happening to your friends there as well. I would advise that you contact your ISP about this matter. Please also note though that accessing the US iTunes Store outside of the geographic region of the United States is not supported, and that attempting to access it while in China is at your own risk."

Copies of messages from Apple's technical support representatives posted on Apple's site said that the company has not barred Chinese users from reaching iTunes, but that the store is being blocked in some parts of the country, giving credence to claims that the Great Firewall of China -- the name given for the government's site -- and content-blocking efforts -- is keeping users from accessing iTunes.

The first messages about the glitch appeared on the iTunes support forum Monday; the volume picked up on Tuesday, and messages continued to be added today. Users reported receiving an error message when attempting to reach iTunes: "iTunes could not connect to the iTunes store. An unknown error occurred.(-4) Make sure your network connection is active and try again."

Users said they were unable to reach the U.S. iTunes store, as well as other iTunes, including Australia's, from China. Apple does not have a Chinese iTunes. The Cupertino, Calif. company opened its first Chinese retail store in Beijing last month.

"I am in Shanghai and the same thing here," said a user identified as "jenjen2008" on Monday. "Downloaded John Stewart on Monday morning and nothing since then. It is an immediate connection error and the rest of the Internet is working fine (as fine as it ever does here)."

On Apple's Web site, several users posted copies of what they said were messages from Apple support, which they had contacted when they were unable to access iTunes.

"iTunes is not being blocked in China from our end," one Apple tech support representative told the same jenjen 2008, "but access to the iTunes Store IS restricted in some areas in China."

Last month Apple opened its first Chinese retail store, and is negotiating deals with Chinese mobile phone operators for a possible release of its iPhone 3G.

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer contributed to this report

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Simon Jary

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