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Access to online apps and storage from behind political firewalls

Switching between different computers is easy when many of your applications and most of your data are accessible online. An obvious concern about this approach is availability of applications and data: How good are the providers at maintaining their infrastructure and keeping it available to users. A trip to the Gulf begs highlights another concern: Censorship.

Site blocked

The censorship policy of the United Arab Emirates received world wide attention when access to flickr, a photo-sharing service, was blocked. Flickr is again available from within UAE and some other sites previously blocked for political reasons are back (such as the Secret Dubai diary). But other websites and services suffer. One example is Skype - and any other service, e.g. Jajah, that the local telecoms monopoly, Etisalat, sees as a threat to their revenues. For an suggestion on how to use Skype in the UAE, see this explanation (although the site is not accessible from the UAE).

Before traveling to the UAE, I had a friend set up a Psiphon proxy service. Although it meant enduring a slower connection, Psiphon enabled me to access most of the censored sites I tried. Access to Typepad, the hosted software I use to publish this weblog, did not seem possible though, probably due to Psiphon still being in development. Now that I am in Oman, Typepad and Skype are again accessible but other sites remain blocked.

As if dealing with state or monopolists' censorship was not enough of a challenge, some sort of inverse censorship seems to be practiced as well. For example, it doesn't seem to be possible to access Digg from the UAE and there is a discussion going on about web-based services blocking access from entire countries.

Offline access to your data and a few proxies are a sensible way to prepare for maintaining productivity while on the go. Or in general protecting yourself from anybody trying to regulate what you can access on the internet.



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Sounds like working in IT/Telecom in China a couple of years ago....that's where the concept of callback came in, although that seems to have fallen out of use these days. They tried to censor sites, but you could always get the information from other sites (i.e. the IHT was blocked, but you could get the information on Yahoo News). Then the US Govt started funding proxies to get around the Great fireWall. Most hamhanded was when they redirected Google to a local search engine. I never realized how much I use Google in every day life until it is not accessible.

Bottom line, they can regulate all they want, but there's always ways around them for anyone w/ a moderate interest in doing so.


Interesting article, maybe something like webaroo (http://www.webaroo.com/) is the answer for going to places with censorship and/or access challenges.

Lars Plougmann

Webaroo is a good idea for taking, say, wikipedia with you on the go. But three factors make it unsuited for wider use:
1. You have to predict in advance what parts of the web you need
2. It does not cater for the participation that the web allows
3. It does not support Mac

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