Several headlines this morning featured the news that the authorities in China have begun to block access to overseas based VPN services. VPNs (or virtual private networks) allow internet users within the country to effectively circumvent the usual censorship strictures and access online content using proxy servers- which serve to protect the user’s online identity and location. In effect they are used to vault over what has perhaps misleadingly been labelled “the Great Firewall of China” (more about this in a later post.)
Some of the most popular VPN service providers within China, such as Astrill, StrongVPN and Golden Frog have all been affected by the recent crackdown, with GreatFire.org reporting that Astrill’s site has been 88 percent blocked in the past 90 days. Censorship instructions regarding the restriction of VPNs were recently issued to the media by government authorities, who accused VPN service providers of disregarding China’s cyber sovereignty.
While the move could be read as a reaction against the increased number of domestic users employing VPN services within China, as other commentators have pointed out the actual percentage of China’s estimated 600+ million internet users who want to gain access to blocked overseas sites still remains marginal. So who exactly is going to be affected by this sudden escalation of online control? Continue reading