Tata Group

Site bans tools to breach firewall

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 12:00am


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Taobao, the mainland's biggest internet retail services provider, has banned the sale of virtual private networks and IP proxies, which can bypass the Great Firewall of China that blocks politically sensitive content.

Some internet users expressed concerned that it has become more troublesome to buy VPNs, while others doubt the effectiveness of the ban.

The notice was posted in Taobao. com's forum on August 9, banning the sale of foreign and domestic VPNs, IP proxies and related software. The notice stated that 'VPN software which gives access to foreign illegal websites is prohibited from sale on Taobao.com'.

Taobao is China's version of eBay.

Vendors were ordered to pull restricted products from their stores. 'We encourage members to report all types of illegal products so we can deal with them promptly,' it said.

Yang Jian, a public relations manager with Taobao, confirmed that one of his colleagues from the company's information and securty department posted the notice.

Analysts said it was aimed at dealing with an increasing number of people who used VPNs or similar tools to access blocked sites or services such as Twitter and YouTube. Some internet users said the move was related to a previous crackdown earlier this year after online calls for 'jasmine revolution' rallies in major cities.

Two VPN users said they told police over 'a cup of tea' - an informal questioning of citizens - that they bought a VPN on Taobao a few months ago when authorities were jittery about the rallies.

A VPN vendor said the ban actually started three or four months ago, and his business had been affected, but not much because he had long-term and steady customers, and expanded business through word-of-mouth or other platforms such as forums and chat groups through qq.com, an instant messenger tool.

'My customers are mainly students, Hong Kong and Macau people, and people who came back to the mainland after living overseas for some time,' he said. 'Some of them want to stay connected to the outside world, and many others simply use VPNs to access to online games.'

Searches for 'VPN' and 'circumvent the wall' showed no results yesterday on Taobao, but 'IP proxies' still had dozens of results.

An internet user who bought a VPN on Taobao in March said it would affect people who were not internet savvy. 'After I bypassed the Great Firewall and used Twitter, I came to know many tech-savvy people who could guide me where to find a better VPN,' he said. 'So I don't need to turn to Taobao.'

Isaac Mao, an internet analyst and director of the Social Brain Foundation which facilitates the Chinese grass-roots culture, said the move sounded like an order from authorities. 'It's not strange to see this move as more people who use some new services have revealed their use of VPNs or VPN-like tools' to access sites such as Google+.