Caixin
Jan 23, 2017 07:36 PM
POLITICS & LAW

China Tells VPN Service Providers to Get Approval to Operate

(Beijing) — China has announced a crackdown on unlicensed internet connection services, including virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow many internet users to bypass the country’s online firewall.

Telecom and internet service providers offering VPN services or dedicated data channels to businesses now require prior government approval, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a statement on Sunday. The rule, which came into effect immediately, has made most VPN services “illegal” overnight. The “rectification campaign” will run until March 2018, according to the notice.

The regulation comes six weeks before the annual meeting of China’s national legislature in Beijing. Many companies and individuals complained that their paid-for VPN services were not functioning for over a week last March when the National People’s Congress met.

Several popular local and international VPN operators, including Wow Shadow and Astrill, said their services were stable for now.

Chinese authorities started filtering online information in the late 1990s, citing cybersecurity reasons. However, websites and services such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and a handful of foreign media outlets have also been blocked. Internet users and businesses turn to VPNs to tunnel their internet traffic through overseas servers.

Data from research service Statista showed that 29% of netizens in China, or 200 million people, were using such services in 2015.

Contact reporter Coco Feng (renkefeng@caixin.com)

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