VPN installs in Hong Kong surged 150 times in the last 7 days
According to Atlas VPN user data, VPN (Virtual Private Network) installs in Hong Kong sky-rocketed 150 times in the last 7 days.
Interest in VPNs can be explained by Hong Kong residents’ fear of the increased surveillance and censorship from China, which is a part of the recently proposed national security law.
Unlike in mainland China, internet access in Hong Kong was unrestricted and uncensored because of the city’s semi-autonomous status.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many other websites and applications which are banned on the mainland, are available in Hong Kong. Yet, the new law threatens to block these as well as many other websites and services.
Atlas VPN research reveals that number of organic VPN installs in Hong Kong increased by over 150 times from May 17, 2020, to May 24, 2020. Organic installs mean that Hong Kong residents searched for a VPN service themselves, Atlas VPN did not spend money on advertising to attract these users.
The rise in downloads and installs started on May 21, 2020, the same day the news about the new law began to spread worldwide. In just a single day, the number of installs surged by 520%, compared to the day before.
The next day, on May 22, 2020, installs jumped even higher, and there were 210% more downloads than on May 21, 2020.
Currently, citizens living in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong, are protected by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. This bill states that citizens have the right to freedom of expression. In turn, the government does not block websites regardless of their political views.
However, if the proposed censorship and privacy laws are similar to the ones currently implemented in China, then Hong Kong is under the threat of being one of the most digitally restricted countries worldwide.
Record-high VPN searches
Google trends data shows similar results concerning Hong Kong citizens’ interest in VPNs. VPN search term interest in Hong Kong rocketed by 1,680%, comparing May 20, 2020, to May 21, 2020.
Google Trends analyze the popularity of search terms in Google Search across various regions and languages. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. Meaning, Hongkongers reached a record-high in the “VPN” keyword Google queries on May 22, 2020.
People in Hong Kong are worried that they will lose their right to unrestricted internet access. Atlas VPN, among others, believes that everyone should have the right to use the internet without censorship and surveillance. A VPN is one of the few tools that can enable these human rights online.
Moreover, authoritarian governments are known to silence journalists and opinionated citizens. By using a VPN, people can hide their location and visited websites. A VPN ensures that Hong Kong citizens stay anonymous online, which allows them to express their views without the fear of getting fined or arrested. These advantages seem to be the main reason why Hong Kong users started to download VPN services.
If the proposed law gets through, it threatens similar net censorship and surveillance to those in mainland China. China’s internet censorship empowered by the “Great Firewall of China” is the most advanced censorship tool in the world.
The Chinese government hires thousands of people to monitor citizens and websites. Also, China’s cyberspace administration requires citizens to receive a license if they wish to launch a website, application, or even a blog.
In addition, the Chinese government requires ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) to implement self-censorship mechanisms, either by hiring employees that monitor their users’ activities or by implementing AI algorithms.
Tanya Chan, Legislative Councilor representing Hong Kong Island, states that this law will leave no place for some activists as well as political groups. For example, groups supporting human rights activists who had been jailed on the mainland could be banned from running in local elections.
If Hong Kong falls under the same digital restrictions as Chinese citizens in the near future, we can expect an even higher interest in VPN services. Many people in China are used to restricted internet access; however, that is not the case in Hong Kong.