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​VPNs can still be used in China despite March 31 ban

China's official VPN ban came into effect at the start of the month, but individual VPNs still continue to work, NordVPN claims.

China's VPN ban came into effect on March 31, 2018, but virtual private network providers are still claiming their users have access to their services in the country.

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China cracked down on the use of "unauthorised" VPNs throughout the course of 2017 with a campaign to take down and control censorship-thwarting software that attempts to break the country's surveillance and blocking lists.

The VPN crackdown culminated in the removal of all VPN apps by Apple from the Chinese App Store in July, and at the same time, Beijing ordered its state-owned internet service providers, including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, to completely block access to VPNs by February 2018, ahead of the slated March 31 ban.

However, businesses and internet users are still waiting for the ban to take effect, with one provider, NordVPN, reporting a lack of information from Chinese authorities about how and when exactly the ban will be implemented.

The company also said businesses have reported that so far there have been no announcements from authorities about the ban.

A VPN service encrypts the traffic flow between the provider and a user's device; it can also prevent tracking software and governments from monitoring user internet activity and helps hide IP addresses.

"We understand the concern of local and international businesses in China, as well as the needs of scholars, scientists, students, and others who vitally need VPNs to freely access the World Wide Web," NordVPN said.

"NordVPN believes that everyone should have the freedom to do business, to study or to do scientific research without restrictions."

A September report from GlobalWebIndex claimed the VPN crackdown was disrupting work and study for entrepreneurs, scientists, and students.

The firm's survey of Chinese internet users found that 14 percent use a VPN daily. For China's online population of 731 million, this means 100 million regular users.

China has long operated the world's most sophisticated online censorship mechanism, known as the Great Firewall, and the use of VPNs by residents provides a loophole which can be used to circumvent the country's surveillance and blocking lists.

At the beginning of 2016, China upgraded its Great Firewall and began cracking down on the use of VPNs, aimed at fostering the "healthy development" of the internet in China.

Social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in the country, with a pilot free-trade zone active in Shanghai in the past that allowed some access to such content, although still heavily restricted. Services including Microsoft Outlook and Gmail have also been banned under the laws.

The Chinese government has also shut live-streaming services and websites, tightened regulations governing internet access, and issued repeated warnings about the need to clean up content through various agencies.

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