China is cracking down on the internet to quash anti-lockdown protests. The government has managed to keep protesters from the streets this week using heavy police presence, following the wave of protests across major cities last weekend.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) instructed tech companies, including ByteDance and Tencent to add more people to their internet censorship teams. Tech companies were also instructed to closely monitor content related to the protests, especially content about protests in universities and the fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, which triggered the anti-lockdown protests last weekend.
Platforms, including e-commerce platforms and search engines, were told to remove sale posting of VPNs and block searches related to VPNs, including information on how to use VPNs. Protesters have been using foreign banned platforms like Twitter, through VPNs, to organize and spread information about the protests.
Only licensed VPN services, most of them operated by state-run telecoms, are allowed in China. However, the government does not always monitor the use of unlicensed VPNs, which people use to bypass the infamous Great Firewall and access blocked websites like Twitter, Facebook, and most other foreign social media sites.
The CAC also instructed tech companies in China to block searches of terms associated with VPNs, like “scientific internet surfing,” a term people in China use as an alternative to “VPN” to avoid internet censors. A search for the term on Weibo, and Alibaba’s eCommerce site Taobao did not bring back any results.
Amsterdam-based VPN provider Surfshark said it recorded a surge in downloads from China and a record number of troubleshooting requests as the government makes it difficult for people to use VPNs.