China’s control over access to the global unfiltered web is still grim. Waldorf Astoria, one of the top luxury hotels in Beijing, stopped providing VPN services last week (in Chinese), which means guests staying at the hotel can no longer access sites such as Facebook and Youtube.
This comes right after Chinese authority denied the news about its ban on personal VPNs after Bloomberg reported last week that China’s top telecom carriers will block individuals from using VPNs by February 2018. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology rebuked the news saying its ban only applies to unlicensed or unqualified businesses and individuals.
While VPN is globally used more by people that care about privacy or connection security, Chinese residents use it mostly when they want to access sites outside of China. Not used by a majority of Chinese internet users, VPNs are common for businesses to communicate internationally and individuals who want to keep in touch with friends and family abroad.
A report from the GlobalWebIndex shows that almost 2 out of 3 China’s VPN users use VPNs at least once a week (with 16% being daily users), but the country didn’t make to the top 5 countries in terms of VPN usage. The top-five countries are Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, and Thailand. Unlike in China, these users are most likely seeking access to region-blocked content as well as enhanced privacy.
China’s ban on unlicensed and unregistered VPN providers has been in effect for sometime. The lack of a dedicated authority unit, however, has left a gap in the execution of VPN supervision. China has established a dedicated unit for cyberspace administration in 2014, making it more difficult for VPN services to survive in the legal gray area.