Google's email service reportedly has been kicked out of China, leaving many users unable to access their accounts since the weekend.
This comes after years of service disruptions and bickering between the U.S. internet giant and Chinese authorities, and fingers are once again pointing at the country's notorious Great Firewall.
According to GreatFire.org, which collects and analyzes data about the Chinese Web censorship system, Gmail web addresses were blocked since Friday and remained down on Monday. "I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google's presence in China and even weaken its market overseas," GreatFire.org said in a report by Reuters. "Imagine if Gmail users might not get through to Chinese clients. Many people outside China might be forced to switch away from Gmail."
Citing a Google spokesperson, Reuters said the company's real-time traffic report showed a sharp dip in traffic to Gmail servers from China.
The Chinese government has been limiting the country's access to Google services throughout the year, in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Other web services including Instragram were reportedly filtered out after pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong clashed with riot police.
Gmail users in China, however, had been access their accounts via e-mail protocols such as IMAP, POP3, and SMTP, enabling them to e-mail messages via Gmail apps running on various platforms such as Apple iOS or Microsoft Outlook.
The latest block opens up questions about how Google's enterprise clients in China will be able to access the e-mail system as well as the U.S. company's ability to operate in the country.
According to Reuters, the Chinese government said it had no knowledge about the Gmail blockage and had always supported "foreign investors doing legitimate business [in China]".
Relations between Google and China had been strained over the past few years during which the former in 2011 accused the Chinese government of hacking its e-mail system and blamed China for Gmail disruptions. The U.S. company in 2010 moved its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong operations in, after refusing to censor its results in response to the government's demands.
While other popular online and social media services such as Facebook and Twitter remain blocked in China, users in the country typically circumvent the country's firewall through a VPN.
Despite the strained relations, Google still deemed the Chinese market lucrative enough to support a US$38 million Series C funding for Chinese tech company, InnoLight Technology. The move was the U.S. vendor's first venture capital investment into China.