China’s web users fear los­ing tools to by­pass ‘Great Fire­wall’

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

En­ter­pris­ing in­ter­net users in China fear the tools they use to tun­nel through the coun­try’s “Great Fire­wall” may soon dis­ap­pear, as Bei­jing tight­ens its grip on the web. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple are es­ti­mated to use Vir­tual Pri­vate Net­works (VPNs) to by­pass Chi­nese in­ter­net re­stric­tions-get­ting ac­cess to blocked web­sites such as Face­book and Twit­ter. Bei­jing has for years turned a blind eye to these holes in its Great Fire­wall, but re­cent events sug­gest the vir­tual tun­nels may soon be bricked up.

In Jan­uary China’s Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy (MIIT) an­nounced it would be ban­ning the use of un­li­censed providers of the ser­vices. In the months since the rule’s an­nounce­ment, ru­mors have swirled that a crack­down was com­ing, but there was lit­tle clar­ity on what ex­actly the rule meant and how, or even if, it would be im­ple­mented. In the past few weeks, how­ever, omens of sig­nif­i­cant tight­en­ing seem to be ev­ery­where.

Sev­eral lux­ury ho­tels in Bei­jing have said they will stop us­ing the tools, which once pro­vided un­fil­tered In­ter­net as a con­ve­nience to their cus­tomers. On Thurs­day, a cloud ser­vice provider in the cap­i­tal no­ti­fied users that it would prac­tice shut­ting down and re­port­ing VPN providers on the or­ders of Bei­jing’s Pub­lic Se­cu­rity bureau. Tech gi­ants Ap­ple and Ama­zon, too, have moved to limit their cus­tomers’ ac­cess to the tools in China in what has been seen as a vol­un­tary move to get ahead of the im­pend­ing crack­down.

On Sun­day, Ap­ple said it was re­mov­ing a num­ber of the pro­grams from its app store, while Ama­zon’s Chi­nese part­ner said that cus­tomers would no longer be al­lowed to use “il­le­gal” VPNs on its cloud ser­vice. “There have been many rounds of gov­ern­ment mur­mur­ings about VPN crack­downs, and for­eign and Chi­nese busi­nesses had grown used to only mi­nor or tem­po­rary re­stric­tions,” said Gra­ham Web­ster, a se­nior re­searcher scholar at Yale Law School. But “this time ap­pears dif­fer­ent.” For now, how­ever, it still re­mains un­clear who will be able to ac­cess VPNs and un­der what cir­cum­stances, a sit­u­a­tion that has left both com­pa­nies and reg­u­lar users on ten­ter­hooks. —AFP

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