As of earlier this month, the Chinese authorities appear to have blocked access to Flickr. More specifically, Flickr images are blocked, but the rest of the site (all the text content) is still available. The reason for the ban seems to be that some photos of the Tiananmen Square massacre were posted on the site around the anniversary on 4 June.
China isn’t the only country that blocks access to Flickr. Other states such as Iran and the United Arab Emirates don’t allow their citizens access to the website. Fortunately, an Iranian, Hamed Saber, has written a Firefox add-on, Access Flickr, that will allow the site to be accessed from all these countries.
A while ago, I began using the Flickr API to display Flickr photos from within the photo gallery on my website. Unfortunately, that meant that users without the Firefox add-on could no longer view all the images on my website either. Interestingly, the Chinese block appears to work simply by blocking DNS lookups to the Flickr image server. If the server is accessed by its IP address, it works fine. Access Flickr ensures that the IP address is always used. For the sake of users without the add-on, I have now changed my gallery to perform the DNS look-up first, then reference images by the IP address. This should allow at least users in China to view my photos as they could until this month. If anyone has any issues with the gallery following this change, please let me know.
Some articles appear to suggest that it’s ironic that Flickr has been blocked in China in the same week that they added support for seven new languages, including Chinese. In fact, they have added support only for traditional Chinese, with the target markets being Taiwan and Hong Kong (where Flickr is still accessible). China, where simplified Chinese is used, was never the intended market. More significant is that the block occurred at around the same time that shareholders at Yahoo, Flickr’s parent company, rejected plans to oppose internet censorship in China. Some people predicted bad things would happen when Yahoo bought Flickr. If using a Yahoo service makes my photographs less accessible to any potential website visitors, I may have to have a rethink and keep my photos elsewhere.
- Related article: Chinese censorship in action