Interest in VPN Services Grows in Hong Kong After Protests

Protest Hong Kong

Conflict starts to rise again in Hong Kong, after weeks of relative calm. This week, again hundreds of people protested against Carrie Lam’s pro-Chinese government. The protesters are afraid that China has too much to say in the country and that they’re going to lose their freedoms. NordVPN, one of the best known VPN services in the world, noticed that the interest in VPNs rose immensely in mere hours.

British Colony

If you’ve followed the news concerning Hong Kong, then you know that things have been restless there for over a year. There have been many demonstrations and millions of citizens joined in at the height of it. Sadly, things didn’t always stay calm. The police took action against the protesters with a lot of force and the protests became more and more violent.

We need to step back into the past to understand why these protests are happening. Up until 1842, Hong Kong was part of China. China handed Hong Kong over to the United Kingdom after they had lost the first opium war. Which meant that Hong Kong was basically becoming a British colony. In 1898, the British and the Chinese signed a treaty which stated that Hong Kong would be ceded back to China after 99 years.

One Country, Two Systems

Not that long ago, on 1 July 1997, the UK cedes Hong Kong back to China as a special administrative region. But Hong Kong had been part of the British territories for over a century, which left its marks on everyday life. Most people believe in Christianity, education is based on Western principles, the economy is based on a Western (capitalistic) model, and English is one of the official languages in the country.

We find the opposite China. A Communist country that doesn’t really believe in the (individual) freedoms we value in the West. Think of the freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to strike, and the right to gather and protest.

You can’t just swap one regime for another, especially when the differences between them are this big. After much negotiation, the British and Chinese agreed that Hong Kong could maintain the course they were on for another fifty years. Individual regions can keep their freedoms while the rest of China is governed in a strictly communist manner. This is also known as one country, two systems. This is a constitutional principle describing both Hong Kong and Macau, which are both special regions of China.

Extradition Treaty

Several generations in Honk Kong have grown up with Western influences. Many dread 1 July 2047, the moment that China can govern again according to their own communist principles. But what will happen to the freedoms that the people in Hong Kong now have? Will all of them be taken away after that date?

Many people feel that China is already taking steps to take back control in Hong Kong. The political leader isn’t chosen by the people, but by a pro-Chinese committee. The people of Hong Kong only get to choose 40 out of 70 representatives – the remaining 30 are chosen by pro-Chinese representatives from the business sector. Many of these representatives have obtained their position through China. This means that a large part of the government in Hong Kong is pro-Chinese.

The reason that so many people went out onto the streets last year, is that the political leaders of Hong Kong wanted to implement an extradition treaty. This treaty stated that China has the right to arrest and try any suspect from Hong Kong. People were afraid that China will use this law to arrest and silence anyone who is critical about the country and its leaders. They protested the law, and Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, nearly every day. At frist, the proposal isn’t withdrawn. But Lam decides to back down in September, and the law isn’t implemented.

So that’s the end of, right? Not really. The protests only get bigger after the extradition treaty is taken off the table. It is not just about the law anymore. The people fear that China’s influence and power is growing by the day and their democratic and Western freedoms are at risk. Not just in the physical world, but online as well.

Peak in VPN Interest

The right to digital privacy and anonymity online are highly valued in the Western world. That is why many people use a virtual private network, or VPN. There are many advantages to using a VPN. A VPN will hide your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic, so that you can browse safely and anonymously. Your internet provider will be able to detect data traffic, but won’t be able to see which websites you visit. Advertising networks like Google and Facebook won’t be able to build a profile on you, based on your information. VPNs also make it very easy to avoid internet blocks and geographical restrictions.

The people of Hong Kong value their safe and anonymous browsing, since criticism on China and its leaders is certainly not appreciated. VPNs can also be used to discuss upcoming protests in a safe way, in which China cannot monitor the conversation.

NordVPN, one of the largest and most popular VPN providers in the world, states that there is a peak in interest in VPN services. At the moment, online searches for VPN services have increased by 120 percent. It’s the largest peak that NordVPN has ever registered, they state in a press release.

They explain that increases like these aren’t out of the ordinary. “Whenever a government announces an increase in surveillance, internet restrictions, or other types of constraints, people turn to privacy tools,” the provider explains. They say that similar increases were seen in other places around the world. For example, the moment at which the US repealed net neutrality, or when former UK prime minister Theresa May passed the Draft Communications Data Bill (also known as the Snoopers’ Charter).

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Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cybersecurity analyst and one of the founders of Since 2014 he has been gaining international experience working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector as a cybersecurity and VPN expert and advisor.