VPN downloads in Hong Kong have soared following the news that China will propose a new national security law that will give it even greater control over the city.
NordVPN, Surfshark and ProtonVPN are just a few of the VPN providers whose apps are quickly moving up the charts in the top free apps section in the Google Play Store in Hong Kong.
Unlike in China where residents rely on VPN services to get around the country’s Great Firewall, Hong Kong currently maintains an open internet with few restrictions on free speech online. Many foreign social networks and services including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more that are blocked in China are legal in Hong Kong, though residents fear they may not be for long.
China’s new national security law is expected to pass when the country’s parliament holds its annual meeting from May 22 to May 28. Privacy advocates are concerned that the law could lead to increased surveillance and censorship in Hong Kong, hence the rush by residents to download VPNs.
Surge in VPN downloads
According to NordVPN’s head of public relations, Laura Tyrell the company’s VPN app was downloaded 120 times more on Thursday than it was the day before. However, she noted that spikes in demand for VPNs are not unusual especially when a government announces an increase in surveillance, internet restrictions or other types of constraints. NordVPN saw similar spikes in sales in the US when the it repealed net neutrality and in the UK when the law dubbed ‘The Snoopers’ Charter’ was passed.
At the same time, Surfshark reported a 700 percent surge in sales in Hong Kong. In a blog post, cybersecurity adviser at the company, Naomi Hodges explained that Hong Kong residents feel threatened by the new law, saying:
“We saw an incredible surge of user growth in Hong Kong directly after the official statement was made public. It’s clear that the people in Hong Kong feel their freedom is being directly threatened.”
Within 48 hours of the announcement of China’s new national security law, the number of people visiting ProtonVPN in Hong Kong increased by 1000 percent, marking one of the largest spikes the company has ever seen. Founder and CEO of ProtonVPN, Dr. Andy Yen explained in a press release that he started the company’s VPN service to defend users’ fundamental rights, saying:
“We created ProtonVPN, and ProtonMail before that, in order to defend fundamental rights such as democracy, privacy and freedom of speech. We believe that the citizens of Hong Kong, just like all people around the world, should have the right to exercise these freedoms. Proton has an office in Taiwan so we feel solidarity with our user community in Hong Kong, and a duty to help uphold our shared values.”
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