As Internet traffic increases, the efforts to suppress and prohibit certain discussions or topics around the Internet, also increase. To quickly anticipate so-called “fake news and misinformation” during significant events such as the COVID-19, BlackLivesMatter riots, Arab Spring, etc., and rest, the best a government or institution can do: is censorship.
But of course, Internet censorship varies from country to country. There are countries with moderate and “helpful” censorship that attempt to fight defamation, obscene content, harassment, etc.. But there are also those countries with high levels of restriction, that limit access to news sites, social networks, and leave out a lot of educational opportunities.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
“When you have strict censorship of the Internet, young students cannot receive a full education. Their view of the world is imbalanced. There can be no true discussion of the issues.” — Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist, and activist who has openly criticized the Chinese Government’s stance on human rights and censorship.
Internet Censorship Around the World.
According to the below map from Wikipedia, some countries in Asia and the Middle East/North Africa are among the ones with the most Internet suppression, but China is probably one of the most strict (according to historic records).
Internet control and censorship efforts have been most evident in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for quite some time. In China, there are new restrictions every day that only isolate the people from the real Internet, which connects networks worldwide.
The controversial Great Firewall (GFW) of China is one of the tough ones putting up the defense. Ths GFW acts like the “first line of defense” from the public Internet coming from the submarine cables. The GFW can block news websites and social networks, preventing Chinese citizens from knowing the government’s actions. It bans youtube.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, along with many more international and national apps and websites. Internet traffic is also continually being monitored.
But that is not all, there are even requirements from the government, to popular messaging platforms to self-censorship. Applications similar to Whatsapp will automatically censor a word that is not accepted. A massive number of traffic auditors and powerful ML algorithms are also policing the content on these messaging platforms.
If done correctly, censorship could help root out fear during events like COVID-19. But unfortunately, censorships during these types of events are never put in place to protect the people, but for someone else’s benefit.
Strange Internet downtimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the COVID-19 virus quarantines, Internet usage marked a new record. Many people relied on the Internet, because it provided a gateway to the rest of the world and way to perform daily activities, from work, to read, study, communicate, entertain, etc.,
But unfortunately, the policing over that Internet traffic also increased. There was a sharp growth in online censorship efforts, especially from countries with censorship history.
For example, NetBlocks.org, a non-governmental organization that monitors cybersecurity and the Internet’s governance, reported significant disruption outages to Internet lines in Iran, during the worst outbreak days in the country. This disruption limited the citizens the ability to educate themselves about the virus, see news, and communicate.
NetBlocks also reported that the Farsi version of Wikipedia was completely blocked in Iran. Authorities said that the filter was put in place in order to help stop the fear over the Coronavirus crisis spreading like wildfire over the Internet. But the censorship also limited people to educate themselves about the virus.
But that wasn’t all.
NetBlocks wasn’t the only organization that recorded these strange downtimes. The SurfShark VPN company also reported that its VPN servers and infrastructure deployed in Iran saw a significant connection drop of 50% after the pandemic was officially declared.
The VPN servers deployed in Iran, helped citizens create a tunnel to circumvent censorship and surveillance, and virtually connect to the Internet from somewhere else, but these servers also suffered from connection drop.
Can VPNs and VPS Really Break Censorship Attempts?
VPNs and other services like VPSs and seedboxes are one of the only ways to circumvent Internet censorship and protect users’ privacy. In strict censorship countries, these services allow users to connect to servers across deployed in countries with friendly data laws.
But still, advanced technology such as the “Mighty” GFW has massive blacklists of VPN IPs that block incoming and outgoing traffic. In other words, people in China, hiring a VPN will not have an easy way to access Facebook with a popular VPN service (unless the VPN provider rotates their IPs).
According to CNBC, some primary Virtual Private Network (VPNs) providers are starting to shut down their infrastructure in Hong Kong. According to these providers, Hong Kong is putting similar tighter Internet restrictions, such as the ones in mainland China.
Although it would be more difficult to store data internally in Hong Kong, it is still possible for someone in Hong Kong to have external communication and circumvent censorship with a virtual server.
Some VPN and VPS Seedbox providers have servers in countries with stricter data privacy rules. For example, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rule in Europe, ensures (by law) that companies or agencies clearly state to users browsing the Internet or using their apps, the type of data being collected.
Along with GDPR rules for protecting data, many other countries (especially in Europe), are starting to have stricter data and traffic protection laws for users. For example, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania, and Norway, are great countries to host your website or store your data. Nobody will have access to your private data.