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The Great Firewall

6:54 PM, Aug 21, 2008 • By KATHERINE EASTLAND
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The iTunes store just died in China.

And it's all because the U.S.-based Art of Peace Foundation compiled an album for Olympians to download, for free, in the name of "compassion and non-violence ... overcom[ing] intolerance and oppression."

The album is called Songs for Tibet and features songs by crooning luminaries such as Sting, Moby, Damien Rice, and Alanis Morisette. Over 40 athletes downloaded the album from Apple's iTunes store. And then, sensing danger, China erected the Great Firewall, barring access to the iTunes store, the only venue for the album when it was launched August 5.

Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) told the Sydney Morning Herald, "The predictably hostile response to the album from Chinese internet users"--some of them wanting to ban Sting et al from ever setting foot in China--"reflects continued attempts to suppress any support for Tibet at a time of crisis for the Tibetan people, as well as the level of entrenched misinformation about Tibet propagated by the Beijing government among the Chinese people."

Upset Apple users across China started to report trouble accessing the iTunes store on Monday, the same day the ICT reported that athletes from North America, Europe, and even Beijing were downloading the album. More complaints came in throughout the week. Apple, as appropriate, claimed no responsibility; they weren't denying access. The only advice users got was to contact their ISP [internet service provider]. The Chinese government effectively controls all ISPs in China, barring customers access to websites it judges "sensitive or illegal." A high-profile album that's pro-Tibet certainly fits the bill.

Apple's CEO Steve Jobs, a practicing Buddhist, must be cringing at the awkwardness of all this hullaballoo. Apple built its first store in China a month ago, plans to open more, and wants to introduce China to the iPhone 3G. We'll see what happens in the coming months.