When Edward Snowden made his revelations about Western state surveillance, he advised users seeking anonymity to adopt VPN networks – but now his host country Russia, along with fellow authoritarian state China, are banning VPN in what many see as a blow to privacy.
Over the weekend, Apple removed 60 VPN apps from its App Store in China in response to an earlier state mandate that all developers must obtain government licenses to offer VPNs in the country from 2018. VPN providers based outside mainland China had been evading Chinese authorities' “Great Firewall” that sought block traffic to a range of ‘forbidden' sources.
Simon Migliano, Head of Research, Top10VPN.com emailed SC to voice on his concerns, saying, "While Apple may feel it had no choice but to remove VPN apps from its store, it's still incredibly disappointing as this is a significant blow to human rights in China."
He added, "Political activists rely on VPN services to not only access the global web, but also to avoid government surveillance of their communications. This restriction of access to VPNs is likely to have a chilling effect on activism given just how severe the consequences for dissidence are in China.
"That's not even mentioning the human right for ordinary individuals to have unrestricted access to information and the ability to communicate, easily and privately, with friends and family around the world.” Migliano predicts that we can expect to see VPN users dump iPhone for Android devices as they are cheap, widely available via local handset manufacturers, and more importantly, the decentralised and fragmented nature of Android app stores means that Google can't simply remove VPN apps like Apple has done.
Another negative outcome is that those who hang on to their iPhones but jailbreak them to install non-Apple approved VPNs will be much more vulnerable to cyber -attacks.
Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law banning the use of virtual private networks in an attempt to thwart access to websites prohibited by the government.
The law, which already has been approved by the country's lower house of parliament, the Duma, also puts the kibosh on the use of anonymizers, according to a report by Reuters.
Reuters cited an RIA news agency report quoting Duma information policy committee chief Leonid Levin, as saying the law was not intended to impede citizens, but rather to prevent access to "unlawful content."
It goes into effect on November 1.