Censorship in China is fierce (thus the dismal Facebook numbers), which is why virtual private networks (VPNs) are a must-have for many citizens. It allows users to get around censorship by digging a virtual “tunnel” to the rest of the global community. However, using VPNs is no secret—but it’s not until now that the Chinese government is targeting them. Major VPN providers in China such as Golden Frog, Strong VPN and Astrill noted a number of service disruptions in early February 2015. The New York Times reports that a “senior official for the first time acknowledged its hand in the attacks and implicitly promised more of the same.”
Unlike many other countries where internet access to (legal) websites is seen as a goal, China would prefer the internet become an intranet. Basically, denying access to any encrypted sites is ideal. This would allow the Chinese government to keep tabs on what anyone is posting online with ease, making Big Brother tactics much easier, according to an anonymous “foreign IT executive” as told to The Washington Post.
Why VPN now?
China, of course, didn’t officially announce why VPN is suddenly under fire, but experts think it’s clear: More and more citizens were using VPNs to get around censorsed sites, and the government wasn’t having it. One of the Greatfire co-foudners says, “The authorities are hell bent on establishing cyber-sovereignty in China. If you look at what has taken place since last summer, it is quite astounding.” In 2014, there was the most intense crackdown on internet censorship in China in history. Social media sites were particularly targeted, including YouTube and Twitter. Private means of communication such as Gmail, IM services and the like were also big game.
In an effort to censor such sites, Outlook users have been attacked and Gmail has been completely blocked at times. However, these are just the most aggressive of tactics. There’s plenty of red tape for foreign technology companies, which makes doing business with China challenging at best. These laws, many of which are new, are causing security issues according to The New York Times—but another angle is the potential for creating a “cover for building the Chinese tech industry…the Chinese regulations go far beyond measures taken by most other countries, lending some credibility to industry claims that they are protectionist.”
Re-defining Micro Management
Exactly what kind of internet laws have been put in place? For banking in China, it’s required that 75 percent of tech products have to be “secure and controllable” classified in the next four years. However, that definition is pretty obscure given the limited, leaked charts that American media outlets have obtained and published. However, even with wiggle room in the contract language, a number of foreign companies are already stating they would rather not engage with Chinese banks. With billions of foreign business dollars currently in the Chinese market, “forcing” foreign businesses away could lead to devastating revenue changes.
The International Data Corporation has reported that in 2015, China will likely spend $465 billion on IT and communication technology. This means 43 percent of the global tech growth will take place here. The US is publicly fighting these new laws, with the US Chamber of Commerce sending a letter to the communist party in February, but so far these objections have gone unaddressed.