Chinese authorities recently issued a 1,000 yuan ($164) fine to a man located in Shaoguan city, Guangdong province, for setting up and using an ‘unauthorised’ VPN service to access content that would otherwise be blocked in the country.
Reports state that Mr Zhu Yunfeng was using Lantern VPN, a free app popular within China. The 1,000 yuan fine is equal to one-fifth of a month’s wages for the average resident of Shaoguan, Mr Zhu’s home town.
Internet users in China are currently only permitted to access international networks through government-authorized channels. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology provides a list on its website of government-licensed operators which supposedly allow you to bypass the ‘Great Firewall’, although their effectiveness is questionable.
This is the first time a fine has been issued since the relevant laws were introduced all the way back in 1997.
According to Greatfire.org, a website that monitors online censorship in China, the Chinese government blocks access to 135 out of the world’s top 1,000 websites. This includes popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Google, as well as certain sections of Wikipedia.
Recently, online regulators have even imposed stricter rules on Chinese internet providers, demanding that they remove any content deemed to be ‘inappropriate’ by the country’s ruling Communist Party. This includes anything from pornography to political speech or, in broader terms, anything that goes against the country’s promoted political ideology.
This is why an increasing number of users are turning to VPNs to access the unrestricted internet. The main issue is that in China, a large number of VPN providers don’t offer the necessary level of protection and are therefore easily detected by censors, meaning you could run into problems – this is most likely the reason this man was caught out.
The best way to avoid these potential pitfalls is to use a VPN that offers additional obfuscation tools, as this will make you ‘invisible’ to Chinese censors, meaning they have no way of tracking what you do online. We’ve published a guide to the best VPNs for China, which you can take a look at here.
This is not the first time someone has been targeted by the authorities for VPN-related ‘crimes’ in China, either. In 2017, during a crackdown on unauthorized internet services, a man from Guangxi province was sent to prison for five and a half years for selling VPN services online. He also had to pay a fine of 500,000 yuan ($72,790), the equivalent amount to the profit he had made since starting his VPN business in 2013.
The Chinese government shows no signs of slowing down on this issue, and most VPN providers are in a constant game of cat and mouse as they attempt to provide their users with consistent access to blocked websites.
This article was updated on 09 January 2019 to include the names of Mr Zhu and Lantern VPN.