Soon after Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the company's manufacturing facility in China, the Chinese government appears to have partially lifted the ban on YouTube. Meaning: Tim Cook should visit China more often.
Actually, China's authorities peeling back the blockade on YouTube likely had nothing to do with Apple's CEO. While the Great Firewall has lessened its grip on the online video site, the relaxation of the restrictions are symbolic at best, some government IT official's mistake at worst.
The partial lift of the ban allowed internet users within China to access YouTube without the need to use a virtual private network, and they can search videos and read user comments but... they can't actually watch any of the videos. MIC Gadget, a China-based tech blog, managed to capture a few screenshots of YouTube with the odd restrictions.
Further, this quasi-unblocking of YouTube might have already expired as several internet users in China are reporting that they cannot access YouTube at all. Instead of still being able to search and see comments on YouTube, users appear to be receiving messages alternating between "The connection has timed out" and "The connection has been reset." So far, users in Kunshan, Yantai (a Shandong province), Sanya (a Hainan province), Shanghai, and Beijing. Meanwhile, some users in undisclosed areas report that they're still able to access the site via an HTTPS connection although it's still the limited non-video version of YouTube.
This is all very puzzling but, truly, shouldn't be surprising given the veil of secrecy with which the Chinese government operates behind its fabled Great Firewall. I'd wager that permitting people to only read the comments on YouTube is actually worse than banning the site wholesale. Beyond such a gesture being akin to inviting someone to dinner and then serving them a wicker basket as an entrée, some of those YouTube comments read as if they were written by newly evicted roundworms.
Perhaps coincidentally, Anonymous defaced several Chinese government websites with instructions on how to bypass the Great Firewall.[Via Slashdot.]