The State of Internet Censorship in Myanmar
A research study by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI),
Sinar Project, and the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO).
Table of contents
Probed ISPs: FMG Company Limited (AS63852), Global Technology Co.,
Ldt (AS133524), OOREDOO Myanmar (AS132167), Telenor Myanmar (AS133385),
Myanma Posts & Telecommunications (AS9988), Yatanarpon Teleport Company
Testing period: 25th October 2016 - 28th February 2017
OONI tests: Web Connectivity, HTTP Invalid Request Line, HTTP Header
Field Manipulation, WhatsApp test, Facebook Messenger test, Vanilla Tor
Censorship method: Signs of TCP/IP blocking and HTTP blocking.
Out of 1,927 sites that
were tested for censorship in six local vantage points in Myanmar, only
five sites presented signs of TCP/IP and HTTP blocking,
including the sites of the U.S. embassy in Myanmar and of the Organization of American States (OAS). The motivation and
justification behind the potential blocking of these sites remains
unclear. No block pages were detected as part of this study that can
confirm cases of censorship.
Similarly, no middle boxes were detected as part of this study. Blue
Coat software (some types of which can potentially be used for internet
censorship and surveillance) was previously
Myanmar by OONI in late 2012. Extensive tests though performed across
six different networks in Myanmar show that Blue Coat software didn’t
appear to be present during the testing period (25th October 2016 to
28th February 2017), indicating that it may have been removed.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and the Tor network appeared to be
across all six networks in Myanmar where OONI tests were run.
In an attempt to examine the current state of internet censorship in
Myanmar, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), Sinar Project and Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO) collaborated on a joint study to
examine whether internet censorship events were persisting in the
country through the collection and analysis of network measurements.
The aim of this study is to increase transparency of internet controls
in Myanmar and to collect data that can potentially corroborate rumours
and reports of internet censorship events. The following sections of
this report provide information about Myanmar’s network landscape and
internet penetration levels, its legal environment with respect to
freedom of expression, access to information and privacy, as well as
about cases of censorship and surveillance that have previously been
reported in the country. The remainder of the report documents the
methodology and key findings of this study.
Myanmar is a sovereign state with a population of around 51 million
in South East Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal,
between Bangladesh and Thailand. It is a parliamentary republic
with 7 regions, 7 states, and 1 union territory.
Its population is comprised of 135 distinct officially recognised ethnic
groups, with the majority Burman ethnic group making up
of the population and dominating the military and government. The
minority ethnic groups includes the Shans (9%), Karens (7%), Rakhines
(4%), Chinese (3%), Indians (2%) and Mon (2%), with the other ethnic
groups consisting the remaining 5%.
According to Myanmar’s 2014 census,
a large majority of Myanmar’s population practices Buddhism, with 87.9%
identifying as Buddhists, 6.2% as Christians, 4.3% Muslims, 0.8%
Animists, 0.5% Hindus, 0.2% as ‘other’ and the remaining 0.1% as ‘none’.
Non-Buddhist minorities face widespread persecution and prejudice, with
the Rohingya minority having continued to suffer from human rights
violation under the military junta since 1978, with
by human rights organisations on the government’s treatment of the
Rohingya minority. The government has been actively accused of forced or
pressured religious conversions of non-Buddhist minorities. Adherence to
Buddhism was an unwritten prerequisite
for promotions within the government and army, with nearly all senior
level officers of the armed forces and the ruling State Peace
Development Council (SPDC) identifying as Buddhists.
Civil wars and rampant ethnic and religious strife have been a constant
feature of Myanmar’s socio-political landscape for most of its
independent years as ethnic minorities struggle for ethnic and
sub-national autonomy. Human rights violations and systematic denial of
basic rights such as freedom of expression, association, and assembly,
occurred with regularity during the military junta’s rule of the country
from 1962 till 2011. The ruling State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) regularly arrested
activists and opposition party members sentenced by unfair trials in
closed courts, in addition to imposing systematic restrictions of
information control to limit social mobilisation around key political
From 1962, the country was ruled by the military junta up until 2011
when it was officially dissolved and replaced with a nominally civilian
government following the 2010 general election. Although the 2010
for declaring the National League for Democracy (NLD) illegal, and only
allowing government sanctioned political parties to contest in it, it
marked the transition of the military’s movement towards more openness,
with the government’s political reforms which included
ending the house arrest of NLD’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi,
the release of 200 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty,
relaxation of press censorship, and institution of new labour laws.
Drastic reforms in September 2011 marked the military government’s
transition to more openness, with significant relaxations of the
country’s censorship policies. Censorship tests
conducted by ONI in 2012 found reductions in the scope and depth of
content filtered in 2012 compared to in 2005, with a majority of
previously censored political content ranging from independent news
sites, the websites of opposition parties, and critical political
content made accessible. Despite that, a culture of self-censorship
remains, with many media organisations taking precaution to avoid
accusations of libel and state security charges. With the new transition
towards a free democratic system following the win of the opposition
party, National League for Democracy in the most recent 2015 election,
it is imperative to continue the questioning of the true breadth and
depth of the current state of censorship in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s transition to a civilian government in 2011 began an economic
overhaul aimed at attracting foreign investors, and integrating Myanmar
into the global economy. This, along with the easing of most Western
sanctions has led to its accelerated growth in 2013 and 2014, with a GDP
Despite this, due to the former military government’s isolationist
policies and economic mismanagement, Myanmar’s income gap is
among the widest in the world, as a large proportion of the economy
remains under the control of supporters of the previous military
Myanmar ranks as a corrupt nation, with a Corruption Perceptions Index
rank of 136 out of 176, and a rating of 28 out of 100 as of 2016.
Network landscape and internet penetration
As of 2016, internet penetration rates in Myanmar are at
growing due to the sharp increase in its mobile penetration rate with
the emergence of cheap mobile internet and improved telecommunication
infrastructure. Despite the strong growth in Myanmar’s mobile
penetration rate from 7% in 2013 to 85% by 2016,
fixed line telephone penetration remains low at just under 1%.
Prior to September 2011, a combination of government censorship,
deliberate infrastructure and technical constraints, deliberately controlled internet speeds with proxy-caching servers, and government restrictions on pricing
limited the internet penetration rates in Myanmar, with it being as low
as 0.2% in 2010.
The government’s expansive control over the internet was largely
facilitated by the fact that users were limited to only two ISPs,
Myanmar Posts and Telecom (MPT) and Bagan Cybertech (currently
Yatanarpon Telecom), both of which were state-controlled by the Myanmar
government. With low computer ownership, most users relied on internet
cafés, promoted as “Public Access Centres” (PAC) for internet access,
with many internet cafés utilising proxy sites and circumvention tools to
bypass government restrictions.
Following the enactment of the Information Technology Law, the
government began the issuing of ISP licenses
to new operators in 2013 in an effort to open up Myanmar’s
telecommunications market. With the entry of two foreign operators
Ooredoo and Telenor in the local mobile market leading to the emergence
of cheap mobile internet and improved telecommunication infrastructure,
internet penetration rates skyrocketed to 12.6% in 2015, with it
currently growing at 19.3% in 2016.
The table below illustrates some of the main providers in Myanmar.
|Mobile Operators/ISPs||Fixed Internet||Mobile Internet|
|Myanmar Posts and Telecom (MPT)||X||X|
|Yatanarpon Telecom Company||X||X|
|Telenor Myanmar Limited||X|
|Ooredoo Myanmar Limited||X|
|Global Technology Co., Ltd||X|
|Fiber Link Myanmar Co., Ltd||X|
|Amara Communications Co., Ltd||X|
|Spectrum Life Net Core||X|
Freedom of expression
Telecommunications Law 2013
The 2013 Telecommunications Law
restricts speech via telecommunications equipment. Section 66D prohibits
the “extortion, coercion, wrongful restrainment, defamation, undue
influence or threatening of any person” using any telecommunications
networks. The use of such subjective terms imposes on the criminal
liability of the speech of any telecommunications user.
The Research Team for Telecommunication Law, as established by the Committee for
Amending the Telecommunication Law, has analyzed the Telecommunication Law from
various aspects, particularly from the view of the legal system and IT
technology. According to the findings, this law has resulted in seven cases
under section 66(d) and five charges under the former President U Thein Sein
administration. Under the present National League for Democracy government,
there have been forty-two 66(d) cases, with five resulting in charges, and eight
people being held in custody. The rest are ongoing cases.
Many of these cases may result from the vague terminology and definitions used
as part of Myanmar’s Telecommunication Law. The Research Team for
Telecommunication Law pointed out, for example, that Section 68(a) of the Law
(“Connecting, receiving, transmitting, distributing or handing out false
information dishonestly or participating in such activity”) is vague, confusing,
and does not specify the types of online activities that could potentially
result in prosecution.
Myanmar Penal Code
Section 124A [Sedition] of the Myanmar Penal Code
prohibits any words, either spoken or written, signs, or visible
representations that bring into hatred, contempt, attempts to excite, or
disaffection towards the government, and can be punished by life
imprisonment or imprisonment of a shorter term to which a fine may be
Sections 499-502 [Defamation] allow the state to prosecute an
individual for defamation, defined as making or publishing any
imputation concerning a person intending to harm the reputation of such
a person, with a penalty of imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Section 505B [Public Tranquility] punishes the creation, publication
or circulation of any statement or rumour with the intent to cause fear
or alarm to the public which may induce them to commit an offence
against the State or against public tranquility, with the penalty of
imprisonment which may extend to two years.
Computer Science Development Law (1996)
Section IX of the 1996 Computer Science Development Law requires prior
permission and registration for the importing, keeping, or utilization
of computers or related equipment in addition to the setting up of
computer networks. Failure to comply with the stipulations of the
Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs is punishable by
imprisonment of up to 15 years, and may also be liable to a fine.
Despite it being effectively superseded by the 2004 Electronic
Transactions Act and subsequently the 2013 Telecommunications Act, it
has never been formally repealed and technically remains in force.
End of pre-publication censorship 2012
In 2012, as part of Myanmar’s reform process, the country’s Ministry of
Information abolished pre-publication censorship practices, no longer
requiring media organisations to submit their content to a censorship
board prior to publication. However, a culture of self-censorship
remains, with many media organisations taking precaution to avoid
accusations of libel and state security charges.
Broadcast Law 2015
The Broadcast Law
lifted the ban on private ownership of daily newspapers for the first
time, with broadcast licenses to public service, commercial and
community broadcasters authorized and revoked by a Broadcast Council.
However, the law maintains government control over the broadcasting
sector– members of the Broadcast Council are appointed by its
president, leaving it open to political manipulation, and undermining
Access to information
Official Secrets Act 1923
Myanmar’s broadly drawn Official Secrets Act
which dates back to 1923 penalizes the receival and dissemination of a
broadly defined range of documents, especially government documents.
Section 3(1)(a) of the Official Secrets Act provides penalties of up to
14 years of imprisonment for anyone approaching or entering a broad
range of prohibited places. Section 5 of the Act severely limits the
disclosure of information of any kind by anyone within or with
connections to the government, in addition to making it an offense to
receive such information, with both offenses carrying providing
penalties of up to 2 years of imprisonment.
Electronic Transactions Law 2004
The 2004 Electronic Transaction Law
forbids the sending or distribution of “information relating to secrets
of the security of the state” through the internet. Due to the broadness
of this definition, this applies to communications about cultural or
economic affairs, and has been used to imprison journalists, bloggers or
activists. The law, along with the Television and Video Law was applied
by closed courts (mostly operating out of Insein prison) to deliver sentences of up
to 65 years to activists, bloggers and members of the 88 Generation
Section 357 of the Constitution of Burma 2008 states
that “the Union must protect the privacy and security of home, property,
correspondence and other communications of citizens under the law
subject to the provisions of the Constitution”. Certain data privacy
requirements exist as part of Myanmar’s 2004 Electronic Transactions Law. Some ISPs such as Telenor have adopted their own policies in
regards to the privacy of their customers. The company stated in their
that they hold a public commitment to protecting their subscribers’
freedom of expression and privacy in accordance with local legislation.
In mid-December 2016, Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO) organized
the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, together with Phandeeyar, Myanmar Centre for
Responsible Business and EngagedMedia.org, with support from the Embassy of
Sweden. The two-day Forum brought together about 90 representatives from
organizations of the private sector and civil society, as well as government and
media, to discuss concerns to digital rights.
The participants discussed the (then) draft Citizens’ Privacy and Security
Protection Bill and raised a number of concerns about its impact and practical
implementation. Many of the concerns pertained to the flaws and vague
definitions included in the Bill, as well as to its limited compliance with
international human rights standards. Some of the participants pointed out that
the Bill does not contain a clear process for seeking permission, an order or a
warrant that would authorize the circumstances for data collection and
retention. As such, representatives from 18 organizations attending the Myanmar
Digital Rights Forum released a joint statement urging the Union Parliament and
the Government not to expedite the law enacting without having nation-wide
Despite the comments and requests made by civil society organizations, the
Citizens’ Privacy and Security Protection Bill was enacted into law on 8th March 2017. The main changes to the law,
compared to the original draft, include the removal of the bylaw making powers
from the Home Ministry, and the insertion of vague wording in Article 8 for
“permission from the Union President or a Union-level Government body”.
Censorship and surveillance
Telecommunications Law 2013
Articles 75 and 77 of the 2013 Telecommunications Law allows the
government to intercept, suspend, or obtain any information that
threatens the national security and prevalence of law in the country.
The broad provision fails to specify which government agents are
authorised to do this, and what sort of information specifically
constitutes the general terms such as ‘national security’.
Reported cases of internet censorship and surveillance
The internet freedom landscape in Myanmar appears to have taken a
relatively positive turn following the 2011 reforms. Nonetheless, some
cases of internet censorship and surveillance that have been reported
since are included below.
Internet café surveillance
A 2011 report by Reporters Without Borders(RSF)
revealed the issuing of a set of expansive directives by the Ministry of
Communications Post and Telegraphs (MCPT) requiring owners of internet
cafés to collect and share with the authorities the personal data of
their patrons including their “names, National Registration Card number,
passport number (if the user is a foreigner), contact address”, in
addition to a log of their internet records.
Internet censorship devices
In 2011, Citizen Lab research uncovered
the use of commercial filtering devices manufactured by U.S.-based Blue
Coat Systems in Myanmar. Tests of internet filtering conducted within
Burma running on Open Net Initiative (ONI) developed software provided
evidence that Blue Coat’s devices were being used to actively filter
internet content in Myanmar. Of the 37 Blue Coat content categories, all
URLs from 10 categories on ONI’s test list appeared to be blocked
entirely, including categories for pornography, LGBT, Hacking, and Proxy
Similarly, a report by Reporters
without Borders revealed the acquisition of censorship equipment and
hardware from the Chinese subsidiary of Alacatel-Lucent. The offering of
a website filtering and surveillance system by Alcatel-Lucent’s Chinese
subsidiary was confirmed by a spokesman for Hanthawaddy, a
Blue Coat software (some types of which can potentially be used for
internet filtering, censorship, and surveillance) was
Myanmar through OONI’s HTTP Invalid Request Line test
in late 2012. It remains unclear, however, if this was a country-wide
deployment or if it was only used in the specific network that was
tested. Two years later OONI’s HTTP Invalid Request Line test was run in
the same network, but the presence of Blue Coat systems was not detected (indicating
that it was possibly removed from that specific network).
Hacking Team Surveillance Software
Leaked email communications from 2015 revealed a discussion between
Hacking Team, an Italian spyware company, and the Myanmar government on
establishing domestic surveillance mechanisms, with the earliest
communication dating back to 2012. Although Hacking Team’s offer ‘active
IT intrusion services’ appears to have
fact that such options were being considered by the Myanmar government
Blocking of Facebook
Following days of unrest and inter-communal violence between Buddhist
and Muslim residents of the Mandalay region which left two dead and 14
injured, Facebook went down
in Myanmar coinciding with the government-imposed curfew hours in
Mandalay, with speculation that the blocked access may have been to
prevent online users from posting hate speech and fueling unrest in
Examining internet censorship in Myanmar
The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), in collaboration with Sinar Project and Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), performed a study of internet
censorship in Myanmar. The aim of this study was to understand whether
and to what extent censorship events occurred in Myanmar during the
The sections below document the methodology and key findings of this
The methodology of this study, in an attempt to identify potential
internet censorship events in Thailand, included the following:
A list of URLs
that are relevant and commonly accessed in Myanmar was created by the
Citizen Lab in 2014 for the purpose of enabling network measurement
researchers to examine their accessibility in Myanmar. As part of this
study, this list of URLs was reviewed to include additional URLs which -
along with other URLs
that are commonly accessed around the world - were tested for blocking
based on OONI’s free software tests. Such tests were
run from local vantage points in Myanmar, and they also examined whether
systems that are responsible for censorship, surveillance and traffic
manipulation were present in the tested network. Once network
measurement data was collected from these tests, the data was
subsequently processed and analyzed based on a set of heuristics for
detecting internet censorship and traffic manipulation.
The testing period for this study started on 25th October 2016 and
concluded on 28th February 2017.
Review of the Citizen Lab’s test list for Myanmar
An important part of identifying censorship is determining which
websites to examine for blocking.
OONI’s software (called
OONI Probe) is designed to examine URLs contained in specific lists
(“test lists”) for censorship. By default, OONI Probe examines the
“global test list”,
which includes a wide range of internationally relevant websites, most
of which are in English. These websites fall under 31 categories,
ranging from news media, file sharing and culture, to provocative or
objectionable categories, like pornography, political criticism, and
These categories help ensure that a wide range of different types of
websites are tested, and they enable the examination of the impact of
censorship events (for example, if the majority of the websites found to
be blocked in a country fall under the “human rights” category, that may
have a bigger impact than other types of websites being blocked
elsewhere). The main reason why objectionable categories (such as
“pornography” and “hate speech”) are included for testing is because
they are more likely to be blocked due to their nature, enabling the
development of heuristics for detecting censorship elsewhere within a
In addition to testing the URLs included in the global test list,
OONI Probe is also designed to examine a test list which is specifically
created for the country that the user is running OONI Probe from, if such
a list exists. Unlike the global test list, country-specific test lists
include websites that are relevant and commonly accessed within specific
countries, and such websites are often in local languages. Similarly to
the global test list, country-specific test lists include websites that
fall under the same set of 31 categories,
as explained previously.
All test lists are hosted by the Citizen Lab on
GitHub, supporting OONI
and other network measurement projects in the creation and maintenance
of lists of URLs to test for censorship. As part of this study, OONI and
Sinar Project reviewed the Citizen Lab’s test list for Myanmar
by adding more URLs to be tested for censorship. Overall, 822 URLs
that are relevant to Myanmar were tested as part of this study. In
addition, the URLs included in the Citizen Lab’s global list
(including 1,105 different URLs) were also tested.
It is important to acknowledge that the findings of this study are only
limited to the websites that were tested, and do not necessarily provide
a complete view of other censorship events that may have occurred during
the testing period.
OONI network measurements
The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) is a free software project that
aims to increase transparency of internet censorship around the world.
Since 2012, OONI has developed multiple free and open source software tests designed to
examine the following:
Blocking of websites.
Blocking of censorship circumvention tools (such as Tor).
Blocking of instant messaging apps.
Detection of systems responsible for censorship, surveillance, and
As part of this study, the following OONI software tests were run from six
different local vantage points in Myanmar:
The Web Connectivity test was run with the aim of examining whether a
set of URLs (included in both the “global test list”
and the recently updated “Myanmar test list”)
were blocked during the testing period and if so, how. The Vanilla Tor
test was run to examine the reachability of the Tor network, while the
tests were run to examine whether these instant messaging apps were
blocked in Myanmar during the testing period.
The HTTP invalid request line and HTTP header field manipulation tests
were run with the aim of examining whether “middle boxes” (systems
placed in the network between the user and a control server) that could
potentially be responsible for censorship and/or surveillance were
present in the tested network.
The sections below document how each of these tests are designed for the
purpose of detecting cases of internet censorship and traffic
Web Connectivity test
examines whether websites are reachable and if they are not, it attempts
to determine whether access to them is blocked through DNS tampering,
TCP/IP blocking or by a transparent HTTP proxy. Specifically, this test
is designed to perform the following:
HTTP GET request
By default, this test performs the above (excluding the first step,
which is performed only over the network of the user) both over a
control server and over the network of the user. If the results from
both networks match, then there is no clear sign of network
interference; but if the results are different, the websites that the
user is testing are likely censored.
Further information is provided below, explaining how each step
performed under the web connectivity test works.
1. Resolver identification
The domain name system (DNS) is what is responsible for transforming a
host name (e.g. torproject.org) into an IP address (e.g. 184.108.40.206).
Internet Service Providers (ISPs), amongst others, run DNS resolvers
which map IP addresses to hostnames. In some circumstances though, ISPs
map the requested host names to the wrong IP addresses, which is a form
As a first step, the web connectivity test attempts to identify which
DNS resolver is being used by the user. It does so by performing a DNS
query to special domains (such as whoami.akamai.com) which will disclose
the IP address of the resolver.
2. DNS lookup
Once the Web Connectivity test has identified the DNS resolver of the
user, it then attempts to identify which addresses are mapped to the
tested host names by the resolver. It does so by performing a DNS
lookup, which asks the resolver to disclose which IP addresses are
mapped to the tested host names, as well as which other host names are
linked to the tested host names under DNS queries.
3. TCP connect
The web connectivity test will then try to connect to the tested
websites by attempting to establish a TCP session on port 80 (or port
443 for URLs that begin with HTTPS) for the list of IP addresses that
were identified in the previous step (DNS lookup).
4. HTTP GET request
As the web connectivity test connects to tested websites (through the
previous step), it sends requests through the HTTP protocol to the
servers which are hosting those websites. A server normally responds to
an HTTP GET request with the content of the webpage that is requested.
Comparison of results: Identifying censorship
Once the above steps of the web connectivity test are performed both
over a control server and over the network of the user, the collected
results are then compared with the aim of identifying whether and how
tested websites are tampered with. If the compared results do not
match, then there is a sign of network interference.
Below are the conditions under which the following types of blocking are
DNS blocking: If the DNS responses (such as the IP addresses
mapped to host names) do not match.
TCP/IP blocking: If a TCP session to connect to websites was
not established over the network of the user.
HTTP blocking: If the HTTP request over the user’s network
failed, or the HTTP status codes don’t match, or all of the
The body length of compared websites (over the control server
and the network of the user) differs by some percentage;
The HTTP headers names do not match;
The HTML title tags do not match.
It’s important to note, however, that DNS resolvers, such as Google or a
local ISP, often provide users with IP addresses that are closest to
them geographically. Often this is not done with the intent of network
tampering, but merely for the purpose of providing users with localized
content or faster access to websites. As a result, some false positives
might arise in OONI measurements. Other false positives might occur when
tested websites serve different content depending on the country that
the user is connecting from, or in the cases when websites return
failures even though they are not tampered with.
HTTP Invalid Request Line test
tries to detect the presence of network components (“middle box”) which
could be responsible for censorship and/or traffic manipulation.
Instead of sending a normal HTTP request, this test sends an invalid
HTTP request line - containing an invalid HTTP version number, an
invalid field count and a huge request method – to an echo service
listening on the standard HTTP port. An echo service is a very useful
debugging and measurement tool, which simply sends back to the
originating source any data it receives. If a middle box is not present
in the network between the user and an echo service, then the echo
service will send the invalid HTTP request line back to the user,
exactly as it received it. In such cases, there is no visible traffic
manipulation in the tested network.
If, however, a middle box is present in the tested network, the invalid
HTTP request line will be intercepted by the middle box and this may
trigger an error and that will subsequently be sent back to OONI’s
server. Such errors indicate that software for traffic manipulation is
likely placed in the tested network, though it’s not always clear what
that software is. In some cases though, censorship and/or surveillance
vendors can be identified through the error messages in the received
HTTP response. Based on this technique, OONI has previously
detected the use
of BlueCoat, Squid and Privoxy proxy technologies in networks across
multiple countries around the world.
It’s important though to note that a false negative could potentially
occur in the hypothetical instance that ISPs are using highly
sophisticated censorship and/or surveillance software that is
specifically designed to not trigger errors when receiving invalid HTTP
request lines like the ones of this test. Furthermore, the presence of a
middle box is not necessarily indicative of traffic manipulation, as
they are often used in networks for caching purposes.
also tries to detect the presence of network components (“middle box”)
which could be responsible for censorship and/or traffic manipulation.
HTTP is a protocol which transfers or exchanges data across the
internet. It does so by handling a client’s request to connect to a
server, and a server’s response to a client’s request. Every time a user
connects to a server, the user (client) sends a request through the HTTP
protocol to that server. Such requests include “HTTP headers”, which
transmit various types of information, including the user’s device
operating system and the type of browser that is being used. If Firefox
is used on Windows, for example, the “user agent header” in the HTTP
request will tell the server that a Firefox browser is being used on a
Windows operating system.
This test emulates an HTTP request towards a server, but sends HTTP
headers that have variations in capitalization. In other words, this
test sends HTTP requests which include valid, but non-canonical HTTP
headers. Such requests are sent to a backend control server which sends
back any data it receives. If OONI receives the HTTP headers exactly as
they were sent, then there is no visible presence of a “middle box” in
the network that could be responsible for censorship, surveillance
and/or traffic manipulation. If, however, such software is present in
the tested network, it will likely normalize the invalid headers that
are sent or add extra headers.
Depending on whether the HTTP headers that are sent and received from a
backend control server are the same or not, OONI is able to evaluate
whether software – which could be responsible for traffic manipulation –
is present in the tested network.
False negatives, however, could potentially occur in the hypothetical
instance that ISPs are using highly sophisticated software that is
specifically designed to not interfere with HTTP headers when it
receives them. Furthermore, the presence of a middle box is not
necessarily indicative of traffic manipulation, as they are often used
in networks for caching purposes.
Vanilla Tor test
examines the reachability of the Tor network, which is designed for online
anonymity and censorship circumvention.
The Vanilla Tor test attempts to start a connection to the Tor network.
If the test successfully bootstraps a connection within a predefined
amount of seconds (300 by default), then Tor is considered to be
reachable from the vantage point of the user. But if the test does not
manage to establish a connection, then the Tor network is likely blocked
within the tested network.
is designed to examine the reachability of both WhatsApp’s app and the
WhatsApp web version within a network.
OONI’s WhatsApp test attempts to perform an HTTP GET request, TCP
connection and DNS lookup to WhatsApp’s endpoints, registration service
and web version over the vantage point of the user. Based on this
methodology, WhatsApp’s app is likely blocked if any of the following
TCP connections to WhatsApp’s endpoints fail;
TCP connections to WhatsApp’s registration service fail;
DNS lookups resolve to IP addresses that are not allocated to
HTTP requests to WhatsApp’s registration service do not send back
a response to OONI’s servers.
WhatsApp’s web interface (web.whatsapp.com) is likely if any of the
TCP connections to web.whatsapp.com fail;
DNS lookups illustrate that a different IP address has been
allocated to web.whatsapp.com;
HTTP requests to web.whatsapp.com do not send back a consistent
response to OONI’s servers.
Facebook Messenger test
is designed to examine the reachability of Facebook Messenger within a
OONI’s Facebook Messenger test attempts to perform a TCP connection and
DNS lookup to Facebook’s endpoints over the vantage point of the user.
Based on this methodology, Facebook Messenger is likely blocked if one
or both of the following apply:
Through its data pipeline, OONI
processes all network measurements that it collects, including the
following types of data:
OONI by default collects the code which corresponds to the country from
which the user is running OONI Probe tests from, by automatically
searching for it based on the user’s IP address through the MaxMind GeoIP database. The collection of
country codes is an important part of OONI’s research, as it enables
OONI to map out global network measurements and to identify where
network interferences take place.
Autonomous System Number (ASN)
OONI by default collects the Autonomous System Number (ASN) which
corresponds to the network that a user is running OONI Probe tests from.
The collection of the ASN is useful to OONI’s research because it
reveals the specific network provider (such as Vodafone) of a user. Such
information can increase transparency in regards to which network
providers are implementing censorship or other forms of network
Date and time of measurements
OONI by default collects the time and date of when tests were run. This
information helps OONI evaluate when network interferences occur and to
compare them across time.
IP addresses and other information
OONI does not deliberately collect or store users’ IP addresses. In
fact, OONI takes measures to remove users’ IP addresses from the
collected measurements, to protect its users from potential risks.
However, OONI might unintentionally collect users’ IP addresses and
other potentially personally-identifiable information, if such
information is included in the HTTP headers or other metadata of
measurements. This, for example, can occur if the tested websites
include tracking technologies or custom content based on a user’s
The types of network measurements that OONI collects depend on the types
of tests that are run. Specifications about each OONI test can be viewed
through its git repository,
and details about what collected network measurements entail can be
viewed through OONI Explorer or through
OONI’s measurement API.
OONI processes the above types of data with the aim of deriving meaning
from the collected measurements and, specifically, in an attempt to
answer the following types of questions:
Which types of OONI tests were run?
In which countries were those tests run?
In which networks were those tests run?
When were tests run?
What types of network interference occurred?
In which countries did network interference occur?
In which networks did network interference occur?
When did network interference occur?
How did network interference occur?
To answer such questions, OONI’s pipeline is designed to process data
which is automatically sent to OONI’s measurement collector by default.
The initial processing of network measurements enables the following:
Attributing measurements to a specific country.
Attributing measurements to a specific network within a country.
Distinguishing measurements based on the specific tests that were
run for their collection.
Distinguishing between “normal” and “anomalous” measurements (the
latter indicating that a form of network tampering is likely present).
Identifying the type of network interference based on a set of
heuristics for DNS tampering, TCP/IP blocking, and HTTP blocking.
Identifying block pages based on a set of heuristics for
Identifying the presence of “middle boxes” (such as Blue Coat)
within tested networks.
However, false positives and false negatives emerge within the processed
data due to a number of reasons. As explained previously (section on
“OONI network measurements”), DNS resolvers (operated by Google or a
local ISP) often provide users with IP addresses that are closest to
them geographically. While this may appear to be a case of DNS
tampering, it is actually done with the intention of providing users
with faster access to websites. Similarly, false positives may emerge
when tested websites serve different content depending on the country
that the user is connecting from, or in the cases when websites return
failures even though they are not tampered with.
Furthermore, measurements indicating HTTP or TCP/IP blocking might
actually be due to temporary HTTP or TCP/IP failures, and may not
conclusively be a sign of network interference. It is therefore
important to test the same sets of websites across time and to
cross-correlate data, prior to reaching a conclusion on whether websites
are in fact being blocked.
Since block pages differ from country to country and sometimes even from
network to network, it is quite challenging to accurately identify them.
OONI uses a series of heuristics to try to guess if the page in question
differs from the expected control, but these heuristics can often result
in false positives. For this reason OONI only says that there is a
confirmed instance of blocking when a block page is detected.
OONI’s methodology for detecting the presence of “middle boxes” -
systems that could be responsible for censorship, surveillance and
traffic manipulation - can also present false negatives, if ISPs are
using highly sophisticated software that is specifically designed to
not interfere with HTTP headers when it receives them, or to not
trigger error messages when receiving invalid HTTP request lines. It
remains unclear though if such software is being used. Moreover, it’s
important to note that the presence of a middle box is not necessarily
indicative of censorship or traffic manipulation, as such systems are
often used in networks for caching purposes.
Upon collection of more network measurements, OONI continues to develop
its data analysis heuristics, based on which it attempts to accurately
identify censorship events.
As part of this study, network measurements
were collected through OONI Probe software tests performed across
six local vantage points in Myanmar between 25th October 2016 to 28th
Upon analysis of the collected data, no block pages were detected that
could confirm cases of censorship. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and the
Tor network appeared to be
in all networks where tests were run. While OONI tests
had previously detected the presence of Blue Coat
software (some types
of which can potentially be used for internet censorship and
surveillance) in Myanmar in late 2012, the presence of Blue Coat was
not detected as part of this study (and neither were any other middle
Certain sites, however, presented a high amount of network anomalies are
part of our testing, indicating that connections to them might have been
tampered with. The findings pertaining to these sites are summarized in
the table below.
|Sites||TCP/IP blocking||HTTP failure||HTTP diff||DNS blocking||Control failure||Not blocked|
The values under the “Control failure” column in the table above pertain to
measurements where we are unable to determine whether access to those sites
was blocked or not, because the control request failed. It’s useful to
cross-reference this information with whether connections to the site in
question were confirmed to not be blocked. The fact that connections to
vibe.com, for example, were not blocked twice indicates that the site is
least likely to have been tampered with, in comparison to the other sites
included in the table above. Access to realdoll.com, on the other hand, which
presented HTTP failures every time it was tested is more likely to have been
blocked. Similarly, gambling site sportingbet.com which presented signs of
TCP/IP blocking almost every time it was tested is also likely to have been
The website of the Organization of American
States (OAS), which is responsible for the promotion and protection of
human rights in America, presented signs of TCP/IP blocking. The testing
of this site also presented signs of TCP/IP blocking in a previous OONI study on internet censorship in Zambia
in October 2016. While this inevitably raises the question of whether
such measurements are false positives, it’s worth noting that the
failure rate from a control vantage point is less than 1%.
The motivation behind the potential blocking of this site though remains
Finally, the testing of the site of the
U.S. embassy in Myanmar presented signs of HTTP blocking, indicating
that access to it may have been tampered with. The testing of multiple
other sites also presented network anomalies, but those were ruled out
as false positives based on our heuristics.
Acknowledgement of limitations
The findings of this study present various limitations and do not
necessarily reflect a comprehensive view of internet censorship in
The first limitation is associated with the testing period. While OONI
network measurements have been collected from Myanmar since 2012 and
continue to be collected on the day of the publication of this report,
this study only takes into account and analyzes network measurements
that were collected between 25th October 2016 to 28th February 2017.
This study is limited to this time frame because we aim to examine the
most recent censorship events and because there was a significant
increase in the collection of network measurements during this period,
in comparison to previous months and years. As such, censorship events
which may have occurred before and/or after the testing period are not
examined as part of this study.
Another limitation to this study is associated to the amount and types
of URLs that were tested for censorship. As mentioned in the methodology
section of this report (“Review of the Citizen Lab’s test list for
Myanmar”), OONI’s Web Connectivity test was run to
examine the accessibility of 822 URLs
that are more relevant to the Myanmar context and of 1,105 internationally relevant sites.
While a total of 1,927 URLs were tested for censorship as part of this
study, we did not test all of the URLs on the internet, indicating the
possibility that other websites not included in tests lists might have
Finally, while network measurements were collected from six different
local vantage points in Myanmar, OONI’s software tests were not run
consistently across all networks. Stable measurements were collected
from certain vantage points throughout the testing period, but less
stable measurements were also collected from a number of other vantage
points following the launch of OONI’s mobile app on 9th February
2017. In other words, once
OONI Probe became easier
to install and run via its mobile version for Android and iOS, we
received an increased amount of sporadic measurements from various new
networks. Since tests were not always run consistently, our ability to
evaluate whether censorship cases were persistent was limited.
Signs of TCP/IP and HTTP blocking pertaining to fives sites, including
the sites of the U.S. embassy in Myanmar
and of the Organization of American States (OAS), were
as part of this study. It remains unclear though why those sites might
be blocked. Overall, 1,927 URLs were tested for censorship. No block
pages were detected that could confirm cases of internet censorship.
Similarly, no middle boxes were detected as part of this study. Blue
Coat software (some types of which can potentially be used for internet
censorship and surveillance) was
Myanmar by OONI in late 2012. It’s unclear, however, if this was a
countrywide deployment or if it was only used in the specific network
that was tested. Two years later, the presence of Blue Coat software was
not detected in the same network, indicating that it may have been
removed. Our recent study, covering the same network plus five
additional networks, does not show the presence of Blue Coat software
in tested networks.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and the Tor network appeared to be
across all six networks in Myanmar where OONI tests were run.
We thank the Open Technology Fund (OTF) and
Access Now for funding this research. We also
thank all the anonymous volunteers in Myanmar who have run and continue to run
OONI Probe, thus making this research possible.