Multinationals and foreign web users based in China to get jittery on Wednesday after pictures began circling the internet which suggested a new clamp down on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs).
While VPNs in the Western world are more commonly used to enhance security, for netizens-in-the-know living in the People’s Republic they represent an essential tool for bypassing the Great Firewall, which blocks many foreign sites and services including Twitter, Facebook and, periodically, Gmail.
As such, they can also be important for the continuing productivity of foreign firms operating inside China, ensuring unfettered access for employees to the world wide web, although just how important will depend on the type of company. However, China Digital Times has got its hands on two photos posted to Google+ last week, which depict signs in a business centre in the Shandong capital of Jinan.
The first, written by the Orwellian sounding “Jinan City Internet Monitoring Team”, warns that some staff have been found “privately logging on to prohibited websites”.
“Upon discovering such activity, the violator’s internet access will be directly cut off and the police will be notified,” it continues.
The second sign apparently reads as follows:
Warning. In order to eliminate access to prohibited websites through use of VPN software by internal staff, starting today, the VPN function will now be disabled. For those who must use a VPN to access the internet, after preparing your file, go to D1 (88885681) and ask a technician to help set up your connection.
There’s of course no suggestion that this hard line approach will be mirrored throughout the People’s Republic, or even throughout Shandong province.
However, it serves to highlight once again the precipitous nature of doing business in China and the unique tech challenges this throws up.
VPN companies were deliberately disrupted and their services blocked during the politically sensitive Communist Party Congress earlier this month, for example.
In addition, reports emerged last year that IT departments in some companies had been forced to warn staff not to use VPNs for accessing overseas web sites as it could result in the authorities black-listing their corporate IP addresses. ®