China 'Cleansing' to Protect Great Fire Wall

China 'Cleansing' to Protect Great Fire Wall
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
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China has started an internet access 'cleansing' program.

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China has the most Virtual Private Network (VPN) users in the world — an estimated 93 million people — but things may change following a notice released by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Sunday.

The Ministry announced that a 14-month nationwide internet access “cleansing” program has started due to “disordered development in the internet access service market,” hence “further market regulations are required to strengthen cyberspace information security management.”

The program will target Internet Data Centers (IDC), Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Content Delivery Networks (CDN) for unlicensed business activities, off limits business activities and sublease practices.

The announcement has drawn criticism from within China and foreign VPN providers who assist people in China circumventing China’s “Great Fire Wall.”

However, according to GreatFire.org, an activist group against internet censorship in China, the announcement has been misread by many because “consumers are not the ones who will get hit.” Rather, “businesses who need unfettered access to the internet will suffer if their local provider decides not to provide this [VPN].” The group said in an email response to PC World.

Of China’s top three VPN providers, only Golden Frog, the company behind VyprVPN, appears to have openly responded to the announcement. The company wrote on its blog that the new regulations appear to target ISPs and network providers that are operating from within China. Since Golden Frog is incorporated in Switzerland and does not operate any servers within China, it is not subject to the new regulations. Unaffected by the new regulations, “VyprVPN continues to operate normally for our customers in China.”

Of the Alexa 1000 top domains, 171 are blocked in China, including Google, YouTube, Vimeo and most social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Other forums alike, such as Blogspot and ask.com, and major Western news sites like New York Times and Reuters are also blocked.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which enforces some of the world’s most restrictive media censorship practices, has long argued that its control of information is important for continued social stability.

Still, critics have highlighted that the country’s supervision and regulation of online speech have been worsening since Xi Jinping (習近平) took over the leadership in late 2012.

David Bandurski, of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, told The News Lens in August 2016, that Chinese internet authorities have been working to make sure all media – including new internet sites and social media – stay in line with the ideas and messages of the CCP leadership.

Editor: Edward White