(File) Wijman said the healthy gaming scence in the country has largely contributed to the involvement of local games devlopment firms’ involvement in popular internation releases like Uncharted 4. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

VPNs help Chinese abroad peer over the Great Firewall

INTERNET users within the mainland aren’t the only ones trying to get around The Great Firewall – citizens and diaspora Chinese are relying on evasion technologies to access content locked behind the country’s borders.

We’ve all heard about Beijing’s boogeyman censors that are not only capable of preventing those within China from accessing banned websites. However, in an ironic twist of events, China’s strong censorship and Internet blocking tactics have had the inadvertent effect of locking out many Chinese people living overseas.

These Internet users aren’t looking to access international social platforms like Facebook or Google, neither are they looking for seditious and easily-distributed content. Instead, the Great Firewall has kept copyrighted content from China’s most popular video platforms out of the hands of citizens abroad. The technologies that for so long kept their people inside and isolated is now making it harder for Chinese people living abroad to access domestic content that is only available free-of-charge to mainland citizens.

Licensing laws have prevented such content from being distributed internationally, leading many to lean into VPN-technologies that help users disguise their foreign IP addresses.

Businesses have sprung up all over to meet this rise in demand for faux mainland IP addresses, including Transocks by Chengdu Fobwifi Networks Technology; and N2ping by Zhengzhou Lonlife technology. Both apps have sprung out of a niche that would cater to the significant populations of Chinese people overseas who want a taste of local content that would be otherwise unavailable to them.

China has cracked down on VPN use in the past several months. Source: Pixabay

While Transocks and N2ping have differing payment schemes, both have become integral to the relationship between Chinese abroad and their connection to home. According to Susan Ma, a mainland citizen living in Hong Kong, having these apps are important for staying in touch with the latest updates in Chinese culture.

“I am a soccer fan, but Hong Kong television stations charge a lot of money for the package,” she told South China Morning Post.

“It is completely different from the mainland where TV stations and their apps always broadcast these programs free of charge. So I have been searching for ways to ‘return to the mainland’ for the free and most up-to-date programs.”

In recent years, the government has instated stricter laws against copyright infringement and knockoffs, while big media corporations have been working to bring content to the mainland through rights purchases. For instance, Tencent Video – backed by the technology giant of the same name – bought the China online broadcasting rights for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Furthermore, it’s uncertain what exactly the fate of these particular versions of VPNs will be. The services have been under heavy scrutiny from government censors recently, and several foreign applications have shut down or pulled out. Apple came under fire recently for removing several from their app store. According to a legal source consulted by SCMP, VPN use may be an offence today, though the development of such services is not. However, such laws may not apply to overseas users.