Week in Review: July 13, 2017

by Jeanette Si

China Cracks Down on VPNs in Latest Step to Regulate Internet

China has recently instructed its major telecom providers to block requests coming through virtual private networks (VPNs), an important resource used by many Chinese netizens to bypass the filtering controls of government censors.

Since China’s firewall is restricted to users within the country, VPNs can evade these controls by redirecting users’ information to overseas servers, making it appear as if these users’ requests come from outside China.

China has attempted to block VPNs in the past but has begun to intensify its efforts this year. In January, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology banned any VPN “that did not seek government approval to operate.” Under these new regulations, China’s three telecom companies -- China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom -- will be required to block all VPNs by February 2018.

These additional demands come on the heels of the latest round of tightened filtering standards in president Xi Jinping’s campaign for “internet sovereignty,” with stricter regulations targeting user-generated content and entertainment sites.

Get the full picture of China's Internet situation with our dashboard

Power Outages Cause Gaza Residents Reduced Internet Hours

For the residents of the Gaza Strip, Internet access has been a rare luxury since 2007, due to restrictions placed on the area by the Israeli blockade.

Lately, Israel has decreased the amount of electricity that it supplies to Gaza, leaving the region’s residents without power for up to 20 hours a day, crippling Internet access in the region for the same duration.

These Internet outages have been especially devastating to the region, as few Gazans can travel abroad currently due to the closure of the Rafah crossing. Netizens from all walks of life – from activists to businesspeople – have decried the Internet outage on social media, calling it a “violation of human rights.”

Talal Okal, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the lack of Internet may make the security situation in Gaza more volatile.

“The internet crisis buildup is likely to increase the sense of isolation in Gaza as well as the unemployment rate. This leads to unrest that could ultimately turn into a military conflict between Gaza and Israel in order to force Israel to solve Gaza's problems, as an occupying state,” he said.

Currently, Gazans have been mitigating the effects of the power outages by using rechargeable batteries, which can hold up anywhere from four to six hours’ worth of electricity on a single charge.

Net Neutrality Day of Action Rallies Support in Defense of Current FCC Policy

On July 12, numerous websites and online stakeholders expressed their dissent regarding the FCC’s proposed rollback of its net neutrality regulations.

Many websites -- such as Medium, Spotify, Reddit, and Netflix -- displayed banners or popups informing visitors more about the issue and encouraging visitors to take action. Other sites like Google and Twitter published official statements. Mozilla and Vimeo created video messages expressing their respective viewpoints on the issue.

Online personalities also voiced their concern, including the World Wide Web’s founder himself, Tim Berners-Lee. In a video statement, Berners-Lee said that losing net neutrality would mean “losing the Internet as we know it.”

“Do you want a web where the cable companies determine which opinions are read, which creative ideas succeed, which innovations actually manage to take off?” he said. “That’s not the web I want.”

Battle for the Net, the website which operates as the “home base” for this day of action, contains a list of over 200 participants who have agreed to spread the word and inspire action. As of July 11, the FCC had received 6 million filings both for and against net neutrality. By the afternoon of July 12, this number had reached 6.7 million.