Amazon Kindle unofficially leaps China’s Great Firewall

Amazon Kindle

Amazon’s Kindle ereader isn’t officially for sale in China, but the ereader device is gaining popularity on the nation’s grey market for one crucial reason: for the moment, the Kindle’s built-in Web browser and 3G connectivity are bypassing China’s Internet censorship regime, enabling users to connect to normally-banned services like the BBC, Twitter, and Facebook.

An article in the South China Morning Post highlights how Chinese bloggers idly tried connecting to banned sites using the Kindle, and were shocked at being able to connect. Although the Kindle can hardly be describes as a robust Web-browsing experience—it offers a slow-drawing, greyscale-only display that is primarily intended for electronic books—being able to bypass Chinese Internet censorship might be a hot selling point for the device. A quick glance at some Chinese online auction sites finds bids in excess of 3000 yuan (about US$450) for 3G-enabled Kindles.

Although technically savvy Chinese have been using services like Tor and proxies to circumvent China’s censorship efforts, the majority of China’s Internet users don’t have the technical expertise or patience for those methods. The Kindle’s ability to sidestep the “Great Firewall” could be a strong selling point for everyday Chinese.

Industry watchers don’t expect that China will let the Kindle continue to access banned sites indefinitely. The Kindle’s Web browsing capabilities route data through servers run by Amazon.com; it would be a comparatively simple matter for China to block access to those services, or work with telecommunications operators to block Internet access from Kindle devices. There is some speculation that Chinese authorities simply haven’t bothered yet because few Kindles are available in mainland China, and there’s very little general interest in the device right now due to a lack of Chinese language content.

Industry watchers generally expect Amazon to bring the Kindle to China in partnership with Chinese 3G operators. In that case, the mobile operators will almost certainly be required to make sure the Kindle is subjected to the same Internet censorship as everything else.