Internet Controls Tighten with VPN Shutdown and Content Rules


A popular Chinese virtual private network provider, GreenVPN, has ceased operation after being ordered by authorities to shut down. VPNs are one of the main circumvention tools used by Chinese netizens to bypass the Great Firewall and gain access to censored content and banned overseas websites such as Facebook and Youtube. Christina Larson at Bloomberg reports:

“GreenVPN sent a notice to customers that it would stop service from July 1 after “receiving a notice from regulatory departments,” without elaborating on those demands. VPNs work by routing internet traffic to servers in another location, such as the U.S., that is beyond the reach of Chinese filters.”

“users of GreenVPN on Apple Inc. iPhones reported that it failed to load, with the timing coming on the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China.”

“[…] While icons for GreenVPN and SuperVPN were visible in Apple’s App Store on Monday, users reported trouble downloading or turning them on. It wasn’t clear if this was due to a technical glitch, or the apps being disabled.”

“Calls to SuperVPN’s foreign offices went unanswered outside of business hours. Apple didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. GreenVPN, whose China websites were in maintenance mode, did not display information for contacting the company”. [Source]

GreenVPN’s termination signals the latest phase of tightened controls on VPNs as a part of an ongoing operation launched in January by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to regulate internet access service providers. A number of other major VPN apps have already been taken down earlier this year: the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong and Guo Wengui’s sensational allegations against members of the Communist Party ahead of the 19th National Congress may have played a role in the timing of the VPN shut down. From Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam and Jack Hu:

“Green is just one of the VPNs that appears to be facing a mandatory shutdown. VPN providers including Netfits, VPN Master Pro, Ponhon, Snap VPN, SkyX, among others have disappeared from Apple and Android app stores over the past few months.”

“[…] Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia believes that the ban is related to the upcoming 20th anniversary of Hong Kong being handed from British to Chinese power, which falls on July 1. A few months later, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will meet in November.”

“[…] Others believe that the move is related to Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui’s corruption allegations against top Chinese official Wang Qishan, the secretary of Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency. Guo Wengui himself believes this too. In a reply to Mr. Sun’s comment about the VPN ban, he said:

‘Dear Mr. Sun: The ban on VPNs is another incident similar to the ban on Voice of America. It is another gift from the heaven… The more furious and mad they become, the stronger we become. All the stupid acts that they have done will only help our fellows in mainland China to wake up. The wall will fall. Friends from the international society are now more willing to fight with us. Everything has just begun.’ [Source]

Meanwhile, controls continue to tighten on sites within the Great Firewall. Authorities in China have ordered multiple websites including social media platform Sina Weibo, video-streaming provider AcFun, and news website iFeng to purge all independent audio and video content, citing the firms’ failure to obtain the required license. DD Wu at The Diplomat reports:

China’s TV and film watchdog, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television said in a statement published on its website on June 22 that the websites have “broadcasted a lot of multimedia programs that either are not complying to national regulations or are promoting negative social commentaries.” Thus the State Administration required the websites to shut down these programs, “in order to create a clearer network space for the majority of netizens.”

Under pressure, Sina Weibo announced later that users without a license are not allowed to upload audio-visual content. Unsurprisingly, the company’s stock price on the Nasdaq Stock Market dropped 4.83 percent on June 22. [Source]


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