Anybody who spends time watching independent creators on YouTube will have heard about a virtual private network, or VPN.
Often, these services are sold with the promise of being able to access streaming content in other countries and while that’s not incorrect, there are many other reasons to use a VPN.
For instance, it’s a tool that journalists and activists use regularly to circumvent digital freedom restrictions in countries around the world.
To that end, NordVPN has noted a number of spikes in usage of its digital privacy tools and while you might think this is due to folks looking for new series in other countries, that is sadly not the case.
“2020 has been turbulent in many ways. Including attempts to restrict the free internet. This year alone, NordVPN received 7 254 emergency VPN access requests from journalists and activists. This is 10 times more than a year ago,” head of public relations at NordVPN, Laura Tyrell said in an emailed statement.
“Most of the requests came from Hong Kong, but we also received requests from Iran, Kashmere, Burma, and other countries with strict internet censorship and heavy surveillance. Not to mention the people who got affected by the bans and sought solutions to protect their online identities,” Tyrell added.
The biggest increase in VPN usage this year was in Azerbaijan where on 29th September, NordVPN saw online privacy tool usage increase by 148 times due to internet access restrictions.
The smallest was in the US where an announcement that TikTok would be banned saw a 34 percent or 0.3X increase in VPN usage.
|Azerbaijan||September 29||x148||Restriction of internet access|
|Hong Kong||May 22||x120||Introduction of the Chinese security law|
|Turkey||June 26||x19||Social media restrictions|
|Belarus||August 10||x10||Internet outages following rigged election|
|Brazil||September 25||x7||Implementation of the Brazilian data protection law|
|South Korea||January 29||x3||Five Eyes expands to include South Korea|
|Thailand||November 2||x3||Ban on Pornhub (and other adult sites)|
|Japan||November 23||x1,5||Update of data privacy and copyright laws|
|India||March 26||x1,3||Internet throttling by the government|
|US||August 7||x0,3||Announcement of a potential TikTok ban|
What is mightily concerning is just how rampant internet censorship by governments is around the world. While many folks will cry censorship when spreading misinformation, this is another matter entirely, especially when it relates to censorship following political events.
“We’ve seen multiple instances this year where governments have taken action to exert control over their citizens both online and in person, typically under the guise of national security, public health or upholding morality,” says digital privacy researcher at ProPrivacy, Attila Tomaschek.
“More and more we are seeing that informed citizens across the globe are using technology to push back. This is evidenced by the massive spikes we saw in VPN usage immediately following government efforts to censor online content or even shut down online communication entirely,” the researcher added.
It’s at this point that we should point out that while there are many VPN services they are not all created equal.
One feature you should be looking for in a VPN is a no-log or zero-log policy. This means that the service doesn’t log your data while you use it making it harder for governments and other ne’er-do-wells to track you.
The folks at ProPrivacy recently updated their recommendations for no-log VPNs and we suggest scrolling through that list when searching for a service for yourself.
[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]