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Chinese Internet Users Concerned About Crack Down on VPNs

Will China’s internet be further closed off from the rest of the world?

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China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice on Sunday that it will strictly contain the unapproved use of virtual private networks (VPNs) by Chinese firms. Many Chinese internet users are concerned about the announcement and fear that it will further close off China’s internet from the rest of the world.

In the “Notice of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Clearing the Internet Market of Network Access Services” (“工业和信息化部关于清理规范互联网网络接入服务市场的通知“), the Ministry stated on January 22 that it will tighten control over Virtual Private Networks (VPN 虚拟专用网络) often used within China to access websites blocked by the ‘Golden Shield Project’ (better known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’).

The official announcement on the website of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The announcement says that authorities will start strengthening control over companies in the areas of Content Delivery Networks (CDN), Internet Data Centers (IDC) and Internet Service Providers (ISP), and that it will “put an end to illegal business activities,” which entails the unauthorized use of VPNs. The measurement is implemented to “promote the healthy and orderly development of the Internet industry.”

Companies will be able to apply for approval to set up or rent special internet connections for ‘cross-border operations’, but those without official approval will be barred from using VPNs.

 

“Without a VPN, how can we now go on Facebook to show our patriotism and love for China?”

 

The crack down on unauthorized internet connections, which will make most VPN service providers in China illegal, will last until March 31, 2018.

On Weibo, media outlets like China News used an image of pandas attempting to climb over a fence to reinforce the message.

Reactions on Chinese social media vary, with many netizens making sarcastic comments about the news. “Wouldn’t it just be better to cut off all Internet and shut down further contact with foreign countries?” some say.

Many others also comment: “Without a VPN, how can we now go on Facebook to show our patriotism and love for China?”

But there are also those who are confused on what the new regulations will mean for individuals, and many who are worried as they fear it will widen the gap between China and the rest of the world: “They will first restrict companies, then they will restrict individuals – it goes step by step.”

“Why are we not allowed to browse foreign websites in the first place?” another commenter wonders: “I simply don’t understand.”

According to a Shanghai-based IT expert quoted by Chinese state media, the crack down is needed to battle “illegal activities.” He told Global Times: “Some multinational companies in China such as Microsoft Corp have a reasonable need to communicate with their headquarters overseas via VPNs, but some corporations or individuals browse overseas Internet pages out of illegal motivations. In this regard, the new rules are extremely important.”

 

“This something that is often underestimated, but there are even walls within the Great Firewall of China.”

 

Some internet users from Xinjiang are especially concerned. For people from the region of Xinjiang in the northwest of China, home to the majority of Chinese muslims, the control on information flows is extra strict as the area has a history of social unrest. “I am from Xinjiang and I have to use a VPN to access most of my apps, like Xiami Music, Baidu Cloud or the Changba (music) app. Without a VPN, what else is there left to do on my phone?”, one commenter wonders.

“What’s up with that?” others ask: “I had a friend from Xinjiang coming over to Shenzhen recently, and although he has a 4G phone card he could not access it. When we called the information line we finally understood that nobody from Xinjiang can use 4G on their phones.” Another person comments: “This something that is often underestimated, but there are even walls within the Great Firewall of China.”

Besides worry, many people express their sadness over the stricter control of China’s internet. They post crying emoticons, writing: “Has our VPN era come to an end?” One person says: “This gives me a headache. If you have experienced the internet freedom of the 1990s, you’d understand how much this grieves me.”

 

“I don’t even know what a VPN is.”

 

Apart from those who worry, there is also a large group of Weibo users who are not too concerned about the new regulations for now. “Did nobody read the original text? This is about companies!”, one person said.

“Why should we want to use foreign websites when we have our own sites like Weibo or Youku?”, some say.

Many others have never used a VPN to ‘climb over’ the Great Firewall of China. “I don’t even know what a VPN is,” some commenters say.

– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kate

    January 24, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    The individual users need not to worry about as this new cybersecurity law will only affect the ”Fixed Line” VPN which are rented out by the Chinese Telecom or those installed by Microsoft to connect the offices (operating in mainland China) to their regional H.Qs. The commercial VPN services mostly operate outside mainland China and won’t have any Fixed line VPN functioning, so they will remain unaffected. I know it because I just talked to my VPN service (ExpressVPN) customer representative to clear my ambiguity regarding the new cybersecurity policy of Chinese government.

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China Digital

Uh Oh, IP: Chinese Social Media Platforms Now Display Users’ Geolocation

From Weibo to Zhihu, Chinese social media platforms now display netizens’ geolocation to ensure a ‘healthy online environment.’

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Over the past few days, Chinese social media platforms have started to introduce a new function that displays the IP location of online commenters.

Weibo was the first platform to introduce the function on Thursday – the topic also became top trending on April 28 – and social media platforms Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and others followed later. Zhihu announced the measure on April 30 (#知乎宣布全面上线显示用户IP属地#).

Weibo has experimented with the function since March 22 of this year before completely rolling it out on April 28. Whenever users post a reply or comment to a thread, their Internet Protocol (IP) address location will be displayed underneath their comment, right next to the post date and time information. The location will also be displayed on the personal account page of Weibo users.

According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. To keep online discussions “authentic and transparent,” social media users’ specific region, city, province, or country will show up below their names. The function can not be turned off by users.

‘Refuting rumors’ is a priority for Weibo management and has only become more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in China and the recent Shanghai outbreak.

On Saturday, the hashtag “What Does It Mean That Platforms Are Unrolling the IP Function?” (#平台开放IP属地功能意味着什么#) was trending on Weibo, attracting over 170 million views.

The new measure has attracted mixed reactions on Chinese social media, where some users think it is useful that you can now discern users located abroad from those who are based in China, making it easier to draw conclusions on what is really going on in society (you can now spot trends that are particularly taking place within one region) and what is merely taking place in cyberspace.

But there are many users who think the new function is just another layer of control and does not really help to combat fake news or malicious rumors, since the IP location could actually still be changed.

Although the entire idea of displaying the IP location is to minimize the gap between cyberspace and reality based on one’s location, the location is merely the geographic location of the internet from the connected device and does not always correspond with the actual location of the social media user.

Once a person is connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example, internet traffic is sent through a server in another location, and the IP address will be replaced by the IP address of the VPN server in a different location from people’s actual address.

Some Weibo account are also not run by the persons themselves but by a social media or marketing company.

In this way, Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai.

Others think that the new rule will only lead to more online polarization and self-censorship: “Who made this unsettling decision?! From now on, Chinese nationals who are studying or living abroad will be extra extra careful in what they write, otherwise, they’ll be labeled as ‘foreign forces.'”

Some people joked about the new function revealing their location, writing: “It made me so embarrassed. I’m pretending to be studying in the UK, while I’m actually in the mountains feeding the pigs.” Others were also surprised that their IP location was completely different from the place where they are actually living: “Weibo, what are you doing? I’ve never even been to Jilin,” one commenter wrote.

According to an online poll held by Fengmian News, 56% of the participants (nearly 300,000 at time of writing) said they supported the new function. 21% did not like the function, 17% said they did not care, and 6% were just curious to see their own IP location and if it matches their actual location.

“I’m gonna go and delete my more extreme comments,” one person wrote: “I don’t wanna give my hometown a bad reputation.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also gave his views on the new measure, saying that people’s viewpoints and values will always be more important than where they come from, and that all friends of China matter, no matter where they are based. However, he argued, it is also good to know where those who openly express anti-Chinese sentiments come from, exposing those ‘evil foreign force’ who are trying to disrupt social cohesion within the country.

Noteworthy enough, Hu Xijin’s own IP location was not displayed on his Weibo account, as some celebrities seem to have been excluded from this measure or can decide themselves whether or not they would like to display their IP location or not.

One Weibo user wrote: “Twitter can follow its own regulations in banning Trump, while Weibo can transcend its own regulations and not show Hu Xijin’s IP location.”

For recent articles Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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