Net Neutrality – USA’s Version of the GFW – Death of Freedom and Information

If you can understand the title you can probably guess where this article is going.  This is both my personal and professional opinion on a blindingly, obvious and simple issue that only benefits extremely large and powerful organizations and individuals.

What is really happening in a one-liner is the US is implementing it’s own Great Firewall Policy to rival and surpass China’s by far in terms of surveillance and censorship.

This is really a no-argument, argument the latest move in the US to get rid of Net Neutrality legally gives the ISPs the right to block, filter, throttle and censor content for any reason.  Obviously the primary and initial reasons will be for business and competitive reasons, this means if your ISP has an issue with Google you could have issues reaching Google services.  It could be if your healthcare provider is suing your ISP or vice versa that you’ll have trouble accessing their website.  It could be that your less than mainstream news sources are competing or disliked by management at your local ISP and you won’t be able to visit anymore.

Some of the first to be impacted may be services like Netflix, Hulu etc which most local cable or telco companies have lost a lot of revenue to.

But it can become so much more than this, access to certain banking portals, including cryptocurrency could be restricted.  In fact another huge implication is that if a US government agency orders an ISP to block access to content, both the government and ISP would be legally absolved.

Since the majority of internet traffic still transits the US and a huge number of services are hosted there, the impact is really the whole internet.

However, we can already see legal challenges on the way.  If they are successful then things will continue as normal but if they are not successful, the internet could enter a dark age.

In fact this should be interpreted more as the USA’s version of the Great Firewall masked as a good thing with ill-intentions that will harm virtually all people and businesses.

I don’t believe we will see massive changes overnight, the system will be implemented gradually to reduce the blowback.

With this insecurity there is also the chance that this could backfire and could create an alternative internet or secondary network that operates independently out of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.  There is simply too much at stake to risk the USA Great Firewall from impacting business and freedom of access and information.  There is also the unintended risk that the USA could be isolating itself if other countries develop countermeasures.

Can VPN’s help get around this throttling?  Yes, and no as now the ISPs could legally block or throttle access to VPN providers’ websites, service or even the protocols themselves.  There is very little that can be done against these measures, it depends how the USA’s firewall is implemented though.  It may be possible to use a variety of protocols and proxy your traffic through hundreds of thousands of IPs collectively to try to avoid blockages and throttling, but it all depends on how aggressive their policies are.  Only the stakeholders who have unleashed this policy know what they really intend to achieve but it certainly isn’t of any benefit to us.

From my standpoint there is no benefit from me as an internet user or business person in having a censored, throttled and firewalled internet.

All speculation aside, it would be wise for both users and businesses to hedge and place their business IT assets overseas at least in backup or secondary mode.  this is the best way to insure against the risk that your business could be severely impacted or inaccessible due to the USA GFW 5.0 as I dub it.  Certainly Asia and Europe are locations that look attractive.  One of the top destinations in Asia to me would be Hong Kong’s internet, in fact I predict Hong Kong and other areas will see a surge in demand as a result of the current firewall policy in the US.

How to disable Google Fonts on your website

The problem check the source code by viewing your website.
Click “View Source”

Then click the link on any “.css” at the top or search for “googlefontapis.com”

In the .css file you can see this:

#before doing any of this backup your original .css

@import url(“https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:400,400italic,700,800”);

This is a problem and what stops your site from being viewed in China!  Since CSS files are usually called first before even displaying html this is why your users think the site is blocked or why you may falsely believe your site is blocked when it is simply the CSS font URL call that is causing it.

How to fix it:

For each Google Font Api download it as a file for example above manually entering this into your browser.
Or you can use this command in Linux:

wget https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:400,400italic,700,800
Save the file as “compevo-google-css.css” or whatever you like:

Inside the file you will see the following:

@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: italic;
font-weight: 400;
src: local(‘Open Sans Italic’), local(‘OpenSans-Italic’), url(https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/xjAJXh38I15wypJXxuGMBp0EAVxt0G0biEntp43Qt6E.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}
@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: normal;
font-weight: 400;
src: local(‘Open Sans Regular’), local(‘OpenSans-Regular’), url(https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/cJZKeOuBrn4kERxqtaUH3aCWcynf_cDxXwCLxiixG1c.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}
@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: normal;
font-weight: 700;
src: local(‘Open Sans Bold’), local(‘OpenSans-Bold’), url(https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/k3k702ZOKiLJc3WVjuplzInF5uFdDttMLvmWuJdhhgs.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}
@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: normal;
font-weight: 800;
src: local(‘Open Sans ExtraBold’), local(‘OpenSans-ExtraBold’), url(https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/EInbV5DfGHOiMmvb1Xr-honF5uFdDttMLvmWuJdhhgs.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}

#########

for each url download the font manually:

Based on the above I made a quick script to help:

for font in `cat cssgoogle.css|grep “.ttf”|cut -d “,” -f 3|awk ‘{print $1}’|sed s#url\(##g|sed s#\)##g`; do
wget –no-check-certificate $font
done

#will download all the fonts like below

https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/xjAJXh38I15wypJXxuGMBp0EAVxt0G0biEntp43Qt6E.ttf
https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/cJZKeOuBrn4kERxqtaUH3aCWcynf_cDxXwCLxiixG1c.ttf
https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/k3k702ZOKiLJc3WVjuplzInF5uFdDttMLvmWuJdhhgs.ttf
https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/EInbV5DfGHOiMmvb1Xr-honF5uFdDttMLvmWuJdhhgs.ttf

#comment out the original

@import url(“https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:400,400italic,700,800”);

#add the following modified code to the top of the original css file:
Change the paths to suit where you downloaded these .ttf files:
#in general you are going to be searching and replacing “https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/opensans/v15/” with “/some/to/your/ttffonts”

@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: italic;
font-weight: 400;
src: local(‘Open Sans Italic’), local(‘OpenSans-Italic’), url(/design-2017-zf/assets/css/xjAJXh38I15wypJXxuGMBp0EAVxt0G0biEntp43Qt6E.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}
@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: normal;
font-weight: 400;
src: local(‘Open Sans Regular’), local(‘OpenSans-Regular’), url(/design-2017-zf/assets/css/cJZKeOuBrn4kERxqtaUH3aCWcynf_cDxXwCLxiixG1c.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}
@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: normal;
font-weight: 700;
src: local(‘Open Sans Bold’), local(‘OpenSans-Bold’), url(/design-2017-zf/assets/css/k3k702ZOKiLJc3WVjuplzInF5uFdDttMLvmWuJdhhgs.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}
@font-face {
font-family: ‘Open Sans’;
font-style: normal;
font-weight: 800;
src: local(‘Open Sans ExtraBold’), local(‘OpenSans-ExtraBold’), url(/design-2017-zf/assets/css/EInbV5DfGHOiMmvb1Xr-honF5uFdDttMLvmWuJdhhgs.ttf) format(‘truetype’);
}

Losing Chinese Business Because of 2 Simple Mistakes

This is not an article about the market condition in China but more of a practical reality that I think most people and businesses have not considered. If you read the news you’ll feel the first impediment to business in China is going to be regulations or that your website may be blocked by the GFW (Great Firewall of China). However in practical terms this is something you’ll almost never encounter. There are however 2 simple but huge, crucial and critical mistakes that most businesses make when trying to attract prospective Chinese customers for overseas or cross-border e-Commerce.

#1 Common Mistake That Guarantees No Customers From China Will Ever Reach Your Site
Everyone knows Google has extensive reach in various online services and platforms including search but their reach goes farther in a very harmful way for anyone trying to get Chinese visitors to their website. This issue applies to almost any user in China whether they are a local or foreigner and whether you are hosting in China, Hong Kong or anywhere outside. This problem can only be resolved by an experienced web developer or team and is a mistake MOST developers unknowingly make.

This little mistake comes from the fonts specified in CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) that are used to style and/or layout all websites on the internet. CSS itself is not the problem, but what is the problem is that a lot of designers use “Google Font APIs” from googleapis.com. This is a bad idea in my opinion aside from the main reason which is that you rely on a third outside party to make sure your website loads. If the remotely hosted fonts cannot be loaded due to a change in location or the server goes down, your website will not load. In the case of China on virtually all consumer grade connections “googleapis.com” is blocked, this means the third party font server is as good as down and your website WILL not load in China because of it.

Essentially what this means is that any website using Google Font APIs will not work in China no matter where it is hosted. The solution is to edit your CSS code and use alternative fonts, or to manually download the .ttf and edit your .css files.

#2 Hosting your site outside of Mainland China or Hong Kong is too slow
For those who have ever visited China, loading sites abroad such as in the US or even worse in Europe is a very difficult hit and miss experience. While most sites are actually not blocked by the GFW, a good portion of sites and services are unusable due to poor connectivity between China and a lot of ISPs. This can be solved somewhat with premium bandwidth that we use in China but really the best solution is to host your site in Mainland China or Hong Kong.

For those familiar with China, you will know that you need an ICP license from the Ministry of IT. This is not a problem if you have a presence in China or a friend who can help. But really the only legal way is to get a proper ICP license which means based on your business and not a personal ICP (we have seen these revoked for misuse). To make it short, if you don’t have an ICP in China your site will not work and will be blocked. So hosting your website in China is only an option if you have an ICP license.

The next best thing is Premium bandwidth from Hong Kong with direct China connectivity which is almost as good as being in Mainland China. But note the “Premium Bandwidth” and “Direct China Connectivity” because only some providers have this. Bandwidth is very expensive in Hong Kong and the only way providers can save money is by buying non-premium bandwidth that routes all China traffic through the USA. For cost it makes sense for those providers, but for you the end user and business who wants to have Chinese customers it doesn’t make sense unless you have direct China peering/connectivity. If you have a good connection to China from Hong Kong then users can essentially expect your site to perform as if it’s in Mainland China, in fact most users will probably feel it is located in China because of the low latency and fast response. In Hong Kong there is no requirement for an ICP license so this is really the best method for those who can’t the ICP license in China.

Don’t Lose Out
For companies who have targeted the Chinese market and have attempted to drive traffic to their own website or third party portal if you haven’t received the response you’ve expected the above could very well be why you have no Chinese customers. In another blog post I will show a few technical examples of how to fix it and still use Google Font APIs although the easiest, quickest fix is to stop using them.