For more than 1.3 billion people living in China, accessing the free flow of information that defines the digital age requires internet users to overcome the “Great Firewall.”
Popular online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been officially blocked by the Chinese government’s strict censorship policy in recent years. These restrictions mean residents must resort to workarounds to enjoy the internet in an unfettered fashion.
One of the more widely used of these workarounds is the virtual private network (VPN), which, in laymen’s terms, allows ordinary users to route their own internet connection through another computer. VPNs have an array of uses within the world of business operations and networking, but in recent years, online gambling enthusiasts have made them the tool of choice for bypassing governmental blocks.
Online poker players in the United States use VPNs to participate in PokerStars tournaments, and the technology has become widespread within the online gambling community.
But per a report by the South China Morning Post published January 23, Chinese officials have instituted an immediate ban on VPNs and other “unauthorized” internet connections.
That report cites a notice issued one day prior by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which made the government’s stance on VPN use clear in stark terms:
“China’s internet connection service market … has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance … to strengthen cyberspace information security management.”
According to the Ministry’s notice, any Chinese resident on the mainland attempting to use cable or VPN technology for internet connections must first receive approval from the government. As part of a 14-month plan to “clean up” China’s internet usage, set to conclude on March 31, 2018, the government seeks to strengthen its overarching Great Firewall strategy of online censorship.
As noted by the South China Morning Post report, the monitoring service GreatFire.org lists 135 of the world’s 1,000 most highly trafficked websites as being officially blocked by the government’s policy. The majority of those sites are social media oriented, but even Google’s search engine and Gmail services are not legally available to Chinese residents.
Also on the list is PokerStars, which was blocked in May of 2011.
This unrelenting censorship over all aspects of the internet has motivated widespread VPN use by China’s younger generation. And while that usage is by no means limited to the iGaming sector, the famously gambling-centric Chinese culture ensures that millions of players use VPNs to place sports bets, play poker, or wager on casino games via the internet.
Other than state-operated lottery programs, all forms of gambling – online or land-based – are forbidden by the Chinese government, despite well-documented demand. This concentrates supply in special administrative regions like Macau, or online through VPN-accessed international sites.
The crackdown comes after the Cyberspace Administration of China, a regulatory body focused on internet censorship, declared its full loyalty on January 5 to President Xi Jinping.
In a statement, Administration officials outlined renewed censorship efforts designed to be “conducive to a successful 19th party congress” – a reference to the power restructuring which occurs within China’s Communist Party once a decade.
Curiously, though, Jinping recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where he spoke against the very same policies his government is now pursuing:
“We must redouble efforts to develop global connectivity to enable all countries to achieve inter-connected growth and share prosperity. Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air.”