A browser developed by China’s 360 Security Technology company, dubbed Tuber, has been removed from Huawei’s AppGallery (store) after being downloaded from there some five million times since late September.
The browser allowed users from mainland China to visit foreign sites blocked by China’s internet censorship and control system known as the Great Firewall, that is normally only bypassed by the use of VPNs (that are themselves often illegal, and removed from Google and Apple’s app stores).
With Tuber, users were able to access Google, YouTube, Facebook, etc, without the need to jump through any further hoops.
What’s interesting here is that this doesn’t appear to be just another run-of-the-mill case of China removing a defiant app or technology challenging its internet control policy. 360 Security (Qihoo 360) Technology is considered to be one of the country’s tech giants, whose CEO Zhou Hongyi a few years ago removed the company from the New York listing, and several of whose companies were among 24 entities sanctioned in May as potentially harmful to US national security in a decision issued by the US Department of Commerce.
For these reasons, the emergence of Tuber can be seen as a Chinese authorities’ experiment with relaxing, while still controlling, some of the severe and tightly upheld online censorship, especially when it comes to access to blocked foreign sites.
For one thing, the browser was available on Huawei’s fast growing AppGallery – a package manager and store built by the Chinese tech behemoth as replacement for Google services after Huawei was no longer able to use them on its phones starting May 2019.
For another, Tuber users had to register their mobile phone number, that is part of China’s unique identification database of users, and consent to have their browsing activity tracked via this number.
And content was still censored on Tuber – for example, a search on YouTube of President Xi’s name “yielded only seven video clips uploaded by three accounts claiming to be television stations in Shanghai, Tianjin and Macau.”
“Searching for Xi’s name in English yielded no results at all,” said the article.
It’s unclear what, if anything went wrong with Tuber – whether the authorities were really unaware of its launch and ordered it removed from stores, as AppinChina’s CEO Rich Bishop told Bloomberg, or if its purpose had been different, and now served.