China’s Recent Crackdown on VPN Providers
Online privacy is a major concern to millions of people from all across the globe. Countries such as the United States have already passed a law that allows internet service providers to sell their clients browsing history to marketers. Such a move allows marketers to bombard internet users with ads that may or may not be relevant to them.
For years now, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have allowed people to access the internet without revealing their location or browsing history to third parties. However, according to an article posted on the Hacker News and The Guardian, China government has ordered the three telecommunication companies in the country – China Unicom, China Mobile, China Telecom – to block access to all virtual private networks by February 2018.
The country is recognized as the largest internet censorship regime that does not allow its citizens to access hundreds of sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. To achieve this objective, the Great Firewall of China was developed and implemented as part of the famous Golden Shield project.
Millions of Chinese citizens rely on VPNs to get access to the restricted sites. The VPNs routes traffic to private servers that are located overseas thereby evading the Great Firewall filters and allowing the users to access the restricted sites without revealing their identity and location. A number of VPN companies have already informed their Chinese customers that they will seize offering their services in the country as a result of this ban.
The restriction is perceived to be part of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information new rules to monitor internet users browsing history and improve cyberspace information security. It makes it illegal for one to not only use but also operate VPN without getting an approval from the government. According to a statement released by the ministry, all VPN services and special cable on the mainland are required to get an approval from the government before starting to operate.
The ban on the use of virtual private network software will not only affect how more than 730 million internet users in China access the internet but also harm academic and sustainability of software companies in the country. For decades now, Chinese researchers have complained about limited access to overseas journals. Foreign companies operating the country also rely on VPNs to secure their data and communication channels.