The Chinese government’s strict censorship policy denies public access to a vast number of sources of online information, from search engines through news sites to social media.
However, savvy users can bypass the system by using a virtual private network (VPN), which connects to overseas, rather than domestic, servers.
That is until now.
China has just imposed a ban on the sale of VPNs, and has told online resellers to remove them from their shelves or face sanctions.
The move is a sudden one. Until last month VPNs were legal in China, but now the State has said that sellers need to have a licence. Selling without a licence will be deemed illegal.
Two of the biggest vendors, Apple and Alibaba, immediately already agreed to comply, removing all unlicensed VPN apps from their online stores overnight.
In addition to the VPN embargo, the government has ordered China’s three state-owned telecommunications companies – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – to ban access to VPNs by February next year, according to Bloomberg.
It is not yet known whether the ban extends to corporate VPNs, although if it does it could have serious implications for international businesses with operations in China, which commonly use VPNs to secure their company data and communicate with overseas offices.