Flickr, OneDrive and messaging apps face disruptions in China

A massive pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong may have prompted China’s censors to block several foreign Internet products, including messaging apps Line and KakaoTalk, and Microsoft’s OneDrive storage service.

The product outages began earlier this week, following a rally in Hong Kong that brought out half a million people on July 1. Line continues to investigate the access problems, but has yet to find the cause, a company spokeswoman said Friday.

The popular social networking app from Japan lets users send messages, photos, and make voice calls. But since the outages began on July 1, some users have been struggling to send and receive messages over the app.

Kakao, the company behind another mobile messaging product KakaoTalk, was also unsure what had caused the disruptions, a spokesman said. Users already registered with the app can still chat and make voice calls, but other features like adding new friends are no longer functioning.

On Friday, Microsoft said it was also investigating access problems with its OneDrive service in China. From Beijing, Microsoft’s OneDrive site was inaccessible.

In addition, Yahoo’s photo-sharing service Flickr has also been blocked since Thursday. The company did not immediately respond for comment about the disruptions.

It’s unclear how many users each of the services have in China, but the blocking is likely tied to the political protests in Hong Kong, said censorship watchdog group GreatFire.org. Government censors probably targeted the products because of their photo-sharing functions, the group said in an email.

Lately, China has been stepping up its censorship of foreign Internet services. About a month ago, China appeared to have begun blocking all Google products, including its search engine.

The government has yet to publicly comment on the blocking of Google’s services, but it occurred just as the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 had approached its 25th anniversary. Later in mid-June, China also seemed to have started blocking U.S. cloud storage provider Dropbox.

But even with the recent disruptions, local Chinese Internet users still have plenty of alternatives that follow the government’s strict rules on censorship. Baidu remains China’s largest search engine, and WeChat is the country’s biggest mobile messaging app, with close to 400 million monthly active users.

Still, some Chinese users are taking to the country’s social networking sites to complain. “We need Line,” wrote one user repeatedly on the company’s official account on Sina Weibo.

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