Chinese and Russian Governments Crack Down on VPNs
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Chinese and Russian governments are taking further steps to restrict VPN use in their countries, making it harder for both residents and visitors to access the free web. Facing pressure from Beijing, Apple has removed some notable VPN apps, including ExpressVPN and VyprVPN, from the iOS App Store.
The increased censorship sparked a disappointed response from the many VPN providers. ExpressVPN posted a blog with the following statement:
“We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts. ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties.”
VyprVPN’s president, Sunday Yokubaitis expressed similar disappointment, stating, “If Apple views accessibility as a human right, we would hope Apple will likewise recognize internet access as a human right (the UN has even ruled it as such) and would choose human rights over profits.”
In a statement to the companies announcing the removal decision, Apple emphasized that the decision was a response to pressure from the Chinese government. The companies were told that their product “…includes content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store review guidelines.”
There is speculation that China will completely ban VPNs by 2018, keeping up a strong tradition of internet censorship. The country’s famous firewall bans popular websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter Instagram, YouTube and The New York Times.
Chinese officials clarified that only ‘unapproved’ VPNs are banned, but the fact that this includes two industry-leading services is disconcerting. It’s important to emphasize that the ban currently only applies to the iOS store. Chinese Windows, Mac and Android users can still purchase the VPNs mentioned above, though this will likely change in the future.
If you are traveling to China, Secure Thoughts recommends purchasing a VPN in advance of your trip, in order to access restricted sites and simultaneously protect your privacy. Current Chinese residents are advised to purchase a VPN during their next trip abroad.
In a similar move against free web access, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed two restrictive laws in June. Effective November 1, Russian internet providers will be required to ban websites that offer VPNs and proxies to Russian residents. Another law will require chat applications to obtain users’ phone numbers.
Critics of the laws say that they are being enacted as an attempt to control the online conversation and ensure that Putin is voted into another six-year term in March 2018. Leonid Levin, head of the information policy committee in the Russian lower house of parliament said the government is not trying “to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens, to block access to ‘unlawful content.’” No matter when you are traveling to Russia, purchase a VPN before your trip. Russian residents can purchase VPNs while abroad.