Update: The FT reports that access has been restored for now at least, with a slight pickup in Google’s stats appearing to confirm.

China has tightened its firewall blockade of Google services, reports Re/code and the WSJ, with email apps no longer able to access Gmail via IMAP, POP3 or SMTP. While web access to Gmail has been blocked since June – believed related to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre – users had remained able to access mail using email apps like Apple Mail and Outlook until Friday … 

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China-based freedom of speech advocacy group GreatFire.org said that the impact of the blockade might extend beyond China’s borders.

“I think the government is just trying to further eliminate Google’s presence in China and even weaken its market overseas,” said a member of GreatFire.org, who uses a pseudonym.

“Imagine if Gmail users might not get through to Chinese clients. Many people outside China might be forced to switch away from Gmail.”

While a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman claimed to know nothing about the block, Google said that it had found nothing wrong at its end.

China first blocked Gmail way back in 2011, with repeated outages since then. The June blockade was briefly restored in July before being blocked again. International companies say that a VPN is the only reliable way to access the Internet from within the country.

Google’s Transparency Report shows a cliff-like drop in access on 26th December, though does caution that data beyond 24th December is still being finalized.

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