No, the Chinese internet did not somehow get re-routed to a small house in Wyoming

If you were reading some of the major tech-news sites on Wednesday — including the New York Times and Washington Post tech blogs — you might have gotten the impression that a huge proportion of the Chinese internet somehow got redirected to a small house in Wyoming on Tuesday. Why? Because that’s what a lot of the headlines said. The truth is almost as strange, but a Chinese technical glitch plays the starring role in the story, not a small house in Wyoming.

The house that captured everyone’s attention is a tiny brick home on what looks like a well-manicured street in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It showed up in photos on Gizmodo and The Verge, under headlines like “Most of China’s Web Traffic Wound Up at a Tiny Wyoming House Yesterday” and “Chinese Internet Traffic Redirected to Small Wyoming House” (that one was the New York Times tech blog). The Washington Post said that “thousands if not millions of Chinese Internet users were being dumped at the door of a tiny, brick-front house.”

Wyoming house

That’s a great story, but it’s not even remotely true, as Megan Garber at The Atlantic has also noted. As some (but not all) of the stories pointed out much further down, much of the traffic from China was actually redirected to a little-known company called Sophidea, which provides tools for evading China’s infamous “Great Firewall.” Is the company based in a small house in Cheyenne, Wyoming? Nope. Are its servers located there? No.

In fact, the small house is just the company’s registered business address, one that is used by thousands of shell companies and other corporations who want to remain relatively anonymous (and the company that registered it has actually moved to a different address in Wyoming). The traffic actually went to wherever Sophidea’s servers are located, which is hard to say with any precision.

According to networking analysts who specialize in China, technologists running the Great Firewall likely meant to block traffic to Sophidea’s domains, but instead they re-routed a large quantity of traffic there by mistake, resulting in outages for websites and other services within China. But none of that had much to do with a small house in Cheyenne, Wyoming — as interesting a story as that might be.