China is famous for its tough internet censorship. In this country it is forbidden to access social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, to use Google services and to watch YouTube videos. There are some ways to bypass these restrictions and visit your favorite sites without limitations. To get a VPN is the most widespread. But, do users really need it?
It is a difficult question to answer. Some people consider that such restrictions are in violation of their rights. You can find this type of users on forums, asking for advice about the best VPN. They probably use their selected VPN service regularly to access blocked sites. For them it is essential to communicate with their friends and relatives using Facebook and to exchange commercial correspondence with the help of Gmail. That’s why these users need VPN services, because they can unblock websites that have been censored by the government and provide with secure access to Internet.
On the other hand, there is the opinion that Chinese users can manage without restricted sites because China has its own counterparts. And this point of view insists that only foreigners staying in China cannot live without access to the blocked American-based websites. Native users can follow China-based websites of the same type instead of foreign ones. For example, to upload their videos, they can use Chinese websites like v.sina.com.cn, tudou.com and youku.com that are not as fast, but at least are not censored. Is it a a negative phenomenon – prohibiting foreign media because they promote ideas that are alien to the centuries-old culture, but having local replacements with the same ideology?
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The Chinese government is going to blacklist universities and corporations for using VPN connections to access restricted websites. The Guardian reported that the Chinese government cracked down on VPNs and closed a loophole that allowed users to bypass their Internet censorship.
The users are complaining that since May 6th it has become very difficult to access sites such as Google and MSN. Moreover, Apple's app store has also been blocked. Internet connections from China Telecom and China Unicom have become unstable, which makes using VPN services difficult.
Universities and corporate connections are suffering, due to the new difficulties, more than broadband connections. The Public Security Bureau has already blacklisted the Chinese Academy of Sciences, that is now asking people to avoid using "circumvention tools to access illegal content".
Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, doesn’t approve of the Great Firewall. She also claimed that the US would assign $19m to fight against Internet censorship in China and other authoritarian states. This funding will be part of the sum that the US Congress has already allocated to combat against the Chinese Firewall.
Online social networks may help people to organize, not virtual, but real protests in their countries. “Twitter Revolution” is becoming a new popular expression. Saying it, we immediately remember Moldova's civil unrest in 2009, Iranian election protests of 2009–2010, Tunisian revolution of 2010–2011, Egyptian Revolution of 2011… No wonder that, fearing mass riots, governments of many countries are banning popular social network services. There is web censorship in countries like China, Iran, Egypt and Libya. Many sites, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, are forbidden.
People who want to visit blocked websites try to find the way to bypass these restrictions. One of the most popular ways among the citizens of these countries is to use a VPN connection to access restricted sites. VPN connection gives people an opportunity to browse the web anonymously, assigning them fake IP addresses. VPN services are extremely widespread, not only amongst local users, but also amongst foreigners. Alex Rico, a Spaniard who lives in China, claims that he uses VPN several times a day to visit Facebook, YouTube and his favorite blogs.
As a result, VPN service providers use internet censorships for their benefit and make money of it. David Gorodyansky, founder of a VPN service provider company, explains that virtual private networks have become a "daily part of people’s lives", because "after sleep, food and water, the next most important thing is information". According to his words, most people access sites like Facebook and Twitter using VPN services in the countries where they are blocked. He estimates the potential market of people who need security and would benefit from a VPN at one billion; an additional 600 million live in regions where web content is censored.
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As we had already reported, censorship in China has become enormous. The government has restricted the access to outside websites, and Google is one of them. Google has officially said that its business with Chinese advertisers is growing, even though its share of online searches in the country falls down.
"Google's revenue in China has grown year-on-year," said a company spokeswoman. "Our business in China is doing well. We have hundreds of partners – large and small – who we continue to work with." Google says it sees its biggest opportunities in China in selling advertising on behalf of local websites or to companies that want to reach customers abroad through its global sites.
But still Google’s position in China is not so encouraging. A major Chinese portal announced last week it would no longer use Google for searching. The future of Google map service is also in doubt. Google's main presence in China has been reduced to its advertising sales offices only, an unusual situation for a company that dominates the internet elsewhere. That’s why a lot of people try to set up VPN connections to unblock webs.
The talks with Chinese government didn’t give any results, so Gmail still remains inaccessible for China. Moreover, Google risked being completely shut out of China after it angered Beijing by announcing last January it no longer wanted to comply with web censorship. "Without a flagship Google will fall further behind Baidu as a search provider. Chinese companies will think twice before they can have any kind of relationship with Google," said Edward Yu, president of research firm Analysys International.
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A censorship crisis has started in China after the authorities restricted the use of VPN services in the country. Some VPN services, including free VPN, faced problems in their work process; some have been banned, and others have been resumed. The Chinese government implemented these measures in fear of the Jasmine Revolution, trying to stop people from accessing outside websites through VPNs.
As Greatfirewall.biz reports, the major VPN service provider to the Chinese market, Witopia, remains inaccessible, as well as a few other VPN services: Hidemyass, CyberGhost VPN, Ultra Reach, Hotspot Shield, TorProject and others. In addition, the IP addresses of the VPN servers owned by these providers have also been blocked. As a result, the companies have to keep shifting their users from one server to another.
Moreover, Email services such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Aol Mail have slowed down in their performance. For example, Gmail has been 45 times slower than QQ. Google has started discussions with the Chinese authorities regarding Gmail being boycotted, but so far it hasn't had much success.
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Witopia, the VPN service provider, has recently reported a huge amount of complaints from its Chinese users about being unable to access some of the resources. According to Bloomberg, they were even forced to ask their subscribers to report problems via e-mail instead of their live support service, because of the “extraordinary volume of China's shenanigans”.
China, notorious for its Great Firewall (The Golden Shield Project) attempts to impose control over the Internet content by banning access to pornography, gambling and opposition sites, as well as to famous western resources such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Herdict.org, a Harvard based organization which monitors accessibility of web sites across the Internet, reports China to have the leading position in Internet censorship.
China denies interfering into the VPN services. Li Wufeng, chief of the Information Office Internet Affairs Bureau of China’s ruling State Council, stated that there have never been any issues involving the access of legitimate VPN services that are used by companies to enhance security.
A virtual private network (VPN) uses encrypting mechanisms for providing a secure data exchange between remote networks and is mostly used by corporations. However, the average users in China have found VPN extremely useful for surfing through blacklisted sites and protecting their Internet privacy.
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From today, we are starting publishing our daily news about security and VPN. We will track what is going on in the world of VPN and will see what role VPN plays in the world.
In February, Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek were interested in how some Chinese guys bypassed the “Great Firewall of China” and why the number of Facebook users from China is growing. Facebook has been blocked in the country since 2009. China bans pornography, gambling and content that is critical of the ruling Communist Party. All sites, including Facebook, that do not follow the nation’s self-censorship rules are blocked. But last month the number of Facebook users from China exceeded 700,000. “This number will probably double over the next six months,” say the experts.
Chinese users started using VPN services to access the restricted sites. A Chinese user seeking to access Facebook would first start an encrypted connection with a VPN service, which would then get on the social-networking website. The Internet service providers can see only that the user logs on to the VPN server, not to Facebook’s. Using VPNs can slow down the connection speed and might require additional software and costs. In spite of this, AnchorFree Inc., an American startup, said that they have seen 1.5 million people using their free VPN service in China during January, a 25 percent increase from the previous month. “There is a general growth in demand for getting onto Facebook and other social media sites everywhere,” said David Gorodyansky, Chief Executive Officer of AnchorFree.
In February, Facebook opened an office in Hong Kong, bringing the company closer to China. Does Facebook feel the "warming" from the Chinese government towards the social networking sites? We can hardly say it. Facebook has about 621 million users worldwide and 700 thousand is a significant number. But we must consider that, in China, the total number of internet users amounts to 457 million. "When you consider the number of Internet users in China, the number of Facebook users is just a blip. It will never be open enough so that most people can use it. It’s too risky." said Paul Wuh, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Samsung Securities Co.
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