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China orders telecoms to block personal VPNs by February

It's getting harder to climb over the Great Firewall.
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Xiaolu Chu via Getty Images

China declared that virtual private networks were illegal back at the start of the year, and now it's giving telecoms no choice but to fall in line. Bloomberg sources understand that the government has told carriers to block individual access to VPNs by February 1st. Companies can still use VPNs internally, and will reportedly be allowed to use leased lines (registered with officials, of course) to access the full internet, but everyone else appears to be out of luck.

It's no secret as to why China would set a firm deadline. Officials know VPNs are regularly used to get around the Great Firewall and access blocked services that might host political dissent, but merely making these private, secure connections illegal won't deter people. It has to make the very act of accessing a VPN difficult if the law is going to have any teeth.

This is bad news for free speech in China, of course, as it makes eluding censorship that much harder. Moreover, it may hurt businesses that are just trying to get work done. What if you're visiting China and need to use a VPN account to access business info while you're away? Not every company needs or can justify internal VPNs in China, and it's not always an option to visit someone else's offices just to check a website or send a message.

Thankfully, this isn't the only way of dodging the censors. Open proxies like Shadowsocks are still around. The question is whether or not China will clamp down on these alternatives as swiftly and thoroughly as it is with VPNs. Historically, solutions like Shadowsocks tend to be reborn or adapt in the face of threats -- there's just no guarantee that they can keep it up forever.

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