Russia and China Crack Down on VPNs

Russia is taking more control over what its citizens are accessing on the internet—including online content banned in the country.

President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation this weekend banning VPNs and other technology that gives users anonymity while browsing the internet.

Already approved by the Duma—Russia’s lower house of parliament—the new law will take effect in three months time on Nov. 1 and will require internet providers to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services. Another law that intends to prevent the anonymous use of instant messaging services will come into force on Jan. 1, 2018.

The government said the laws are meant to crack down on the dissemination of extremist material and block access to unlawful content. But critics see them as an act of censorship and an attack on internet freedom.

This controversial law follows China’s shut down of VPNs on Friday. Apple removed as many as 60 VPNs from China’s App Store, according to the BBC.

In a statement, Apple said that they were obligated to remove VPNs that failed to meet new regulations by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology requiring VPNs to be explicitly licensed by the government.

With sites including Facebook, Google and YouTube banned in the country, China is known for controlling what their citizens have access to on the internet. VPNs have allowed China’s citizens to bypass the country’s “great firewall” by hiding users’ IP addresses to gain access to censored content and overseas websites.

VPN service providers who had their apps pulled from China’s App Store have responded with disappointment. ExpressVPN said they were “troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts,” and called the decision “surprising and unfortunate” in a blog post.