Amidst increasing online restrictions by the Chinese government, several developers are taking to creating and selling illegal VPNs.
Local Chinese authorities detained a software developer recently in Beijing for selling computer software that allowed users to bypass China’s “Great Firewall”. This firewall has kept Chinese citizens from accessing several popular websites most notably social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The restriction is not only limited to entertainment and social media sites but also extends to popular news sites.
The software developer has been previously arrested in August this year for developing a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The developer, who originally hails from Jiangsu, developed a small business that intended to sell the VPN. A VPN would allow a Chinese user to bypass governmental detection while enabling them to access previously restricted sites by encrypting the user’s browsing activity.
The developer charged individual users 10 yuan (the equivalent of $1.50) for a month’s service. To date, the developer in question has earned a total of 1080 yuan ($165) from his VPN business. The authorities have, since his arrest, seized his earnings.
This is not the first attempt by tech-savvy individuals to bring unrestricted internet access to the highly monitored Chinese population. Earlier this year, an individual was arrested for selling VPN services in Dongguan. The 26-year old was sentenced to nine months in prison. In early August this year, there was also an incident with a developer selling VPN software in China’s Apple App Store.
Beijing authorities has, since the increase of unauthorized VPNs, increased its monitoring in order to eradicate this practice completely. According to authorities, regulating online activity has never been more important, considering the upcoming ruling party congress happening in October.
We do know that the Chinese populations’ internet access is highly restricted and monitored, yet we still do not know exactly what the restrictions entail.
Despite the strictly illegal nature of VPNs, many Chinese citizens are not deterred in using them.
According to a survey by GlobalWebIndex, approximately 14% of Chinese users currently use a VPN service in their day-to-day browsing and online activity. While this may not seem like a large percentage, it does mean that over 100 million Chinese citizens regularly use a VPN. A further 8.8% of the 14% have also admitted to using their VPN as a means to access previously restricted sites.
The last year has seen a huge increase in additional governmental restrictions when it comes to online activity. In an already restricted platform, they also introduced a special license called an Internet Content Provider license, which is mandatory for every business to obtain if they have a website.
Deputy Dean of the School of Literature and Law at the Communication University of China, Wang Sixin, recently stated in an interview to Global Times, that the increased regulations are imposed in order to create a rule of law on the internet. Wang condoned the regulations by stating that web users not in accordance with the restriction will put themselves at risk of harmful information if they do not heed the regulations.