A notice released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Sunday said that all special cable and VPN services in China required prior government approval – a move effectively making consumer “cross-border” VPN service providers illegal. “China’s Internet connection service market ... has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance.”
The “clean-up” of the nation’s Internet connections would start immediately and run until 31 March 2018, the notice said.
The edict is part of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) clean-up, which regulates the Internet and acts as an online censorship office. Its existence reflects China’s realisation that the Internet can provide access to unfiltered media and the outside world. Its first crackdown was to insist that all Internet users be identified by full name, address etc.
Greatfire.org, an organisation that monitors online censorship, says China currently blocks access to 173 out of the world’s top 1000 websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But more importantly are the 6993 blocked domains, 893 blocked Google-affiliated sites and 22,993 search terms. Not even Wikipedia escapes, with 876 references blocked.
Consequently, many Internet users have used VPN services to access blocked sites and services. But as China controls all outward connections to the Internet, it is easy to block access not only to the outside world but to identify encrypted content and the off-shore VPN servers to which they connect.
The CAC is not backwards in introducing tough rules to control cyberspace. It is now mandating that any website hosted in China has a .cn domain extension, regardless of whether it is a foreign company or not. That allows it to easily block the rest of the world, while leaving China’s Internet alone.
It has also forced local app stores to register and agree to government censorship of the apps they can serve. China has more than 650 million registered Internet users and its app stores are larger than many global ones.