China tightening control over foreign companies’ internet use; move might disrupt operations, jeopardise trade secrets

By: | Published: July 20, 2017 1:33 PM

China is tightening control over foreign companies' internet use in a move some worry might disrupt their operations or jeopardise trade secrets as part of a crackdown on technology that allows web surfers to evade Beijing's online censorship.

china, china internet, CPN clampdown, China VPN clampdown, China news, China latest news, China trade, china businessesThe letter from state-owned China Telecom Ltd. says VPN users are barred from linking to other sites outside China, a change that might block access to news, social media or business services that are obscured by its “Great Firewall.” (Reuters)

China is tightening control over foreign companies’ internet use in a move some worry might disrupt their operations or jeopardise trade secrets as part of a crackdown on technology that allows web surfers to evade Beijing’s online censorship.

In a letter to corporate customers seen by The Associated Press, the biggest Chinese internet service provider says virtual private networks, which create encrypted links between computers and can be used to see sites blocked by Beijing’s web filters, will be permitted only to connect to a company’s headquarters abroad.

The letter from state-owned China Telecom Ltd. says VPN users are barred from linking to other sites outside China, a change that might block access to news, social media or business services that are obscured by its “Great Firewall.”

The letter repeats an announcement from January that only VPNs approved by Chinese authorities are allowed. That has prompted fears of possible loss of trade secrets or information about customers or employees among companies that question the reliability of Chinese encryption services and whether authorities might read messages.

Regulators announced a crackdown in January to stamp out use of VPNs to circumvent web censorship. Authorities have tried to reassure companies they won’t be affected, but if the rules in the China Telecom letter are enforced, they could hamper activity ranging from gathering information for business deals to employees working on business trips.

The crackdown reflects President Xi Jinping’s vision of “internet sovereignty,” or Beijing’s absolute right to control what people can do and see online. Control over information is especially sensitive ahead of a party congress late this year at which Xi is due to be appointed to a second five-year term as leader.

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The ruling Communist Party encourages web use for business and education but rejects the notion of a borderless internet and the free flow of information. It controls internet traffic across China’s borders and tries to keep its public from seeing thousands of websites abroad including Google and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as news outlets and human rights groups.

This week, the Beijing municipal internet regulator announced it ordered website operators including Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. to remove material that was “distorting the history of China and the Party” and “promoting abnormal values” or had other problems.(AP) AMS 07201300

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