China blocks VPN services that let internet users get around censorship

Mainland authorities hit operations that let users get around online censorship

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 January, 2015, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 January, 2015, 2:58am

China was blocking virtual private network (VPN) services that let users skirt online censorship of popular websites such as Google and Facebook amid a wider crackdown on online information, tech companies and specialists said yesterday.

The VPN provider Golden Frog wrote on its blog that the new controls had hit a wide swathe of VPN services. The popular provider Astrill informed its users this week that the controls had started hitting iPhone access to services such as Gmail.

The government blocks thousands of websites to prevent what it deems politically sensitive information from reaching Chinese users.

Many foreigners in China and millions of Chinese depend on VPNs to connect to servers outside the country and access blocked information and Google-based business tools.

China-based entrepreneur Richard Robinson said the controls had hurt small- and medium-sized foreign companies that depended on VPNs. Larger companies could afford direct links to servers overseas, he said.

Over the past weeks, censors have blocked what remaining access there was to Gmail and other Google products.

Google services have been periodically blocked or limited since 2010 when the company said it would no longer cooperate with China's censors.

"China is in the middle of a very ferocious power struggle or political cleansing under the name of an anti-corruption campaign," said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information.

"That to me is a very clearly related fact with the amount of political rumours and information related to China's high politics showing up in websites outside of China."