The Amazon Kindle 3G allows users to view any webpage in the world on a six inch monochrome screen. That doesn’t sound too impressive, unless you are in China.
See, it’s not the display that’s of interest here: it’s the “any webpage” part. That’s because the device apears to have circumvented the infamous “great firewall of China” filter that, depending on your interpretation, either protects the Chinese people from inappropriate material, or acts as a barrier to free speech and political dissent.
Users probably shouldn’t get too used to the freedom however: the quirk has been reported in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper. (Registration required to view article.) That likely means that if officials can impose the filter, they soon will.
The Kindle isn’t officially available on the Chinese mainland but, as with many electronic devices, it’s available on the “gray” market. (The most prominent example of this is iPhones being made in China, shipped to the United States, bought there and shipped back to people in China, and then sold at a high mark-up on even the US prices.)
There are several possible theories why Kindle users are able to access the web without limits: a technical flaw in the way the filter works; a failure of officials to even think about the device; or a deliberate conclusion that, with no Kindles officially available to locals, it’s not worth upsetting foreign visitors who bring the device on their trip.
The unfiltered access is only available on the 3G version and not the Wi-Fi only edition. The Kindle doesn’t require a 3G subscription and instead uses a local network that has struck a deal with Amazon. Although it does appear the Kindle connects via a local carrier in China in the first instance, it’s possible that the device’s connection is then automatically routed to an overseas network, through which internet content isn’t filtered.