The government’s move to ban 59 Chinese apps on Monday is likely to push users towards virtual private networks (VPN) once again. Companies like SatoshiVPN were the first off the block. Within hours of the government’s announcement, it put out an advertisement in social media which read, “an investment in a VPN is an investment that always pays for itself — many times over.”
Indians are not new to using the VPN route to circumvent bans. Earlier, in October 2017, the Department of Telecom (DoT) had asked the internet service providers to ban 827 websites for allegedly hosting child pornography, which also spurred on the usage of VPN apps. PornHub’s 2019 report revealed that 91% of its visitors from India used mobile phones to browse the website. This was despite two of the largest telecom and internet service providers in India — Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — having taken down most porn websites on their network in many telecom circles.
However, with the three biggest service providers implementing the ban, India fell just three spots from 12 to 15 in terms of visitors to PornHub. The ban had only diverted the audience to other unregulated platforms and caused a general fall in fall in visits for several websites.
According to a News18 report, there are no laws around using VPNs in India as long as they are not being used for illegal activities. The most common use of VPNs is to watch pornography or get access to torrents, both these activities do not invite legal action in India.
Recently, the government had arrested a few Kashimiris for using VPN services to allegedly promote unlawful activities in the Kashmir valley. Since the ban of internet services and social networking websites in Kashmir between August 2019 to March 2020, several used VPN services to access blocked content like Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
According to ExpressVPN, India has witnessed a growth of 15% in VPN usage since end-February. The numbers are slightly lower than the global average of 21%.
As the government passed the order to ban 59 Chinese apps, Google Play Store and Apple App store immediately delisted TikTok and Helo for India. Apple store has also removed U Video, V Fly Status, DU browser, Virus cleaner, DU cleaner, DU Battery Saver, QQ NewsFeed. However, other major apps like UC Browsers, Club Factory, Shein, ShareIt and Clash of Kings continue to be listed on both app managers.
Many argue that even if the mainstream app stores like Google Play and Apple Store delete applications, there are several third-party options to download these apps.