For those living in mainland China, the temporary but excruciatingly widespread blockage of VPN (virtual private network) services is the most tangible sign that something political is happening domestically.

The annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) has triggered a crackdown on VPN providers, which allow customers to bypass China’s internet censorship or the Great Firewall (GFW). Many organizations, including non-profits, startups, academics, and corporations, rely on VPN to access services and resources such as news articles, Google’s search engine, and social media. The meeting concluded yesterday, hopefully returning internet censorship in China to “normal” levels.

In many ways, the Great Firewall is associated more with slow internet and lowered productivity, not thwarted dissent. In countries where the internet is not as broadly censored as China’s, VPNs have a more niche audience who care about browsing privacy or need a secure connection to a remote network, such as a corporate intranet.

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Eva Xiao

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at eva.xiao@technode.com or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).