A man in Nanjing was detained for three days last month for selling VPN services as China continues its crackdown on software that allows users to sneak over the Great Firewall.
The Jiangsu IT engineer, surnamed Zhao, was arrested by police on August 21st, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday. According to the report, Zhao confessed that he had set up a VPN account for himself so that he could read information from blocked overseas sites. Sensing an opportunity to make a profit, he soon began selling VPN services as well.
Zhao said that he sold VPNs for 10 yuan a month, 50 yuan for six months, 90 yuan for a year and 120 yuan for two years. In total, police say that he managed to make 1,080 yuan before being caught. Officers confiscated all of his illegal income and kept him in custody for three days.
In the end, Zhao got off easy compared to Deng Jiewei, a 26-year-old man from Dongguan who was arrested last August for selling VPNs. In March, Deng was convicted of “providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system” and sentenced to nine months in jail. Authorities said that Deng had made 14,000 yuan from selling VPN software. The case was only made public earlier this month.
Deng’s jailing quickly raised discussion and sparked fears online with many netizens nervously wondering what kind of precedent this case had set, especially in regards to their own VPN use, worrying that they could be arrested as well.
While it isn’t likely that China is planning to round up VPN users, it certainly appears clear that the Chinese government is intent on further tightening tts already substantial internet regulations and censorship, particularly as next month’s extremely significant 19th Party Congress draws near. Earlier this month, China introduced new regulations that tightened control over social media chat groups.
Back in January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a crackdown against unauthorized VPNs used to conduct business across borders. Then, in June, the ministry was forced to deny a report from Bloomberg which alleged that China was planning to ban all personal VPNs by next February.
Meanwhile, the municipal government of Chongqing has published rules which state that internet users who profit from VPN connections could face fines of up to 15,000 yuan, one VPN service, GreenVPN has notified its users that it has been forced to shut down after “receiving a notice from regulatory departments,” and even Apple has kowtowed to Chinese censors, removing all foreign VPN apps from its China App Store.
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