More tech-savvy users may opt for VPN

More tech-savvy users may opt for VPN

Chinese Internet users have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to access sites blocked by their government, a ploy that could take hold here if new anti- piracy laws kick in.

VPNs work by making it seem that the user is accessing the site from another country, such as the United States, where the offending website is not blocked.

If the proposed new legislation - which would allow copyright holders to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to piracy sites - comes into force, more tech-savvy Singaporeans might opt for a VPN.

"By implementing (piracy site blocking), a lot of users will seek other options to bypass the blocks," said Singapore Polytechnic senior lecturer Samson Yeow of the School of Digital Media and Infocomm Technology.

Mr Julian Ma, chief executive of Computer Guys, an information technology firm, also tips a jump in VPN sign-ups but not at the level seen in China, where many social media sites, including Facebook, are blocked by what is colloquially known as the Great Firewall of China.

China was No. 4 in the world for using VPNs in the fourth quarter last year, according to market research firm GlobalWebIndex.

Consumers here might feel less strongly about not being able to access piracy sites as copyrighted content is available via legal means, such as Apple's iTunes or music streaming service Spotify.

While VPNs are not difficult to set up for a single device, they become tricky to establish across a series of computers and smartphones, said Mr Yeow.

The process involves tinkering with router settings, for instance, which could baffle many users.

Accessing a site via a VPN can also result in a "drastic drop in connection speeds", noted Mr Ma, perhaps by more than 90 per cent.

It is technically possible to block VPN services, so a court here may allow this to cut access to piracy sites.

But blocking a VPN service also stops access to legitimate content as a firewall cannot be targeted at specific sites in this case, said Mr Yeow.

Subscribing to a VPN account can cost $10 to $20 a month, with many popular providers based overseas, such as StrongVPN in the US.

This article was published on April 22 in The Straits Times.

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