One of the rare places in China where people could find a gap in the Great Firewall, a system that doesn’t allow online users to view blocked content such as social media platforms and foreign news portals, was the lobby of a luxurious international hotel. But now it seems that that little gateway is being closed as well due to Beijing tightens its control over available cyberspace in the country.
Internet providing firms have been warned to stop offering or installing VPNs, which are tools that allow people to bypass the regulations of the China’s censors, to hotel systems by regulators.
A marketing manager at Chinese hotel network provider AMTT Digital said that the firm has received notices from government departments that made them stop making recommendations. The person in question, that asked not to be identified, also said that this was linked to increased government scrutiny over the use of unauthorized VPNs.
What VPNs do is create a tunnel in the Great Firefall, therefore letting users access the blocked content. It has been known that firms in China use VPNs for their businesses, and as Beijing said, they are not under the threat at the moment.
Waldorf Astoria in Beijing was the hotel in question that has stopped offering VPN to their guests. Its officials declined to comment on the subject, but some of its employees did say that they don’t have it anymore due to them not being in accord with Chinese laws.
China’s Ministry of Information Industry and Technology (MIIT), which oversees regulation of VPNs, did not respond to requests for comment.
This has been just another step in the ever growing campaign of censoring what China’s residents get to see on the internet. China-based VPNs have been closed, encrypted messaging on the WhatsApp has been disrupted, and telecoms firms have been enlisted to extend China’s domestic internet control.
Another major move was made by Apple which pulled dozens of VPN apps from its store last month, which brought criticism to the tech giant from the app providers who said this was a move to please the regulators.
The content that guests at the InterContinental hotel on the east side of Beijing can access is to search on Alphabet Inc.’s Google search engine or check their email on Gmail, but they cannot access Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Technical staff at five other hotels in Beijing, including Crowne Plaza, Hilton, and Shangri-La, said guests could still access some blocked websites, though others were often still off-limits. Officials at the hotels declined to comment.
Other hotels said they did not offer VPN services because it did not accord with government rules.