China on Friday started blocking access to Google in what's likely a move to squelch any controversial content on the nation's Internet as its government prepares to change leadership.
The blocking was reported by GreatFire.org, which tracks online censorship in the nation. Web addresses for Google search, Gmail, Google Maps and more are inaccessible. Instead, the real IP addresses for Google's subdomains have been directed at an IP address located in Korea that serves no websites, according to the group.
Google also confirmed the blocking, and noted a drop in traffic for all its products in China over the last several hours. That drop appeared to start after 5 p.m. local time, according to the company's transparency report, which monitors Google traffic worldwide.
"We've checked and there's nothing wrong on our end," said Google spokeswoman Christine Chen in an email.
China is infamous for Internet censorship in its efforts to weed out anti-government content and has blocked Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Access to Google, however, had previously remained open, although authorities had actively censored searches for sensitive subjects and been accused of disrupting Gmail service for users in the country.
Blocking Google could leave hundreds of millions in China without access to the site, GreatFire said. But Google's popularity in the country has diminished since the company shut down its China-based search engine in 2010, following censorship disputes with authorities.
Google currently has a 5 percent share in the country's search market, according to data analytics site CNZZ.com. Due to China's censorship of Google's search results, the company's Internet services are also slow, and have driven away once loyal users in the country, analysts have previously said.
The blocking comes as China's Communist Party this week started to hold its 18th Party Congress, where it will name the country's new leaders. Users have already been reporting slower Internet access likely due to increased censorship efforts from the government.
It's unclear how long the block of Google will last and if it's temporary until the Party Congress ends.
Recently, the Chinese government has shown it is sensitive to negative reporting in Western publications. Late last month, China blocked access to The New York Times after it reported on the billions of dollars in wealth owned by family members of Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao.