Recently, interest in Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) has increased as TikTok is being banned or threatened to be restricted in several countries. The Vice President of ExpressVPN observed that there was an increased number of governments around the globe that were trying to control the access of information to their citizens.
VPNs are used to access blocked sites and services, therefore they are used by a lot of people around the world. ExpressVPN has over 3000 servers across 94 countries. There was a 10% increase in its week-over-week traffic following the announcement of a potential ban on TikTok by the U.S. government. Similarly, the service in Australia and Japan also experienced a 41% and 19% increase in traffic, respectively, after their governments made the same announcement. In India, the service experienced a 22% WoW jump in traffic. In Hong Kong, as a result of the enactment of the national security law, TikTok voluntarily pulled out and ExpressVPN saw an increase of 10% in traffic growth.
According to a Hong Kong media scholar, VPN is no ''magic bullet'' as governments can make it hard for citizens to access VPNs by removing them from local app stores. In order for someone to register in another regional app store, it still won't be a convenient process as they will have to face obstacles such as the requirement of a local credit card. Similarly, governments can also illegalize the use of VPN services by imposing fine on users and even imprisoning VPN vendors.
Moreover, there are some challenges that can not be tackled even after gaining access to a VPN service alone. For instance, in some cases users may be required to remove their local SIM card along with using the VPN service.
Selecting alternatives to the banned apps may not provide a pleasant experience either. For example, there are no competitors of TikTok that can match its user experience or for users of the Chinese owned messaging app WeChat in America, the app is the only way for them to stay connected with friends and family in China, where major Western social networks are not available.
Bans on certain apps force people and businesses to adapt to service shutdowns or have restricted access to the free and open internet. Telegram founder, Pavel Durov, pointed out that the U.S. government's action to ban TikTok is setting a ''dangerous precedent'' that is harming the internet as a truly global network.