Travel|January 5, 2011 2:08 am

I’ve got My Eye on You: Internet Access in China

I’ve received quite a few messages recently about communicating through the Internet while in China. Here are my answers. First of all, yes, the Internet is heavily censored here, so if you are coming to China to study past uprisings or current political disputes, you’re not going to have much luck. You’ll have zero access to sites reporting on those sorts of issues. Who cares, though, right? You’re coming here to work, study, or travel, not to become involved in politics. Well, maybe you should still care a little. why?

Because you’re not going to have access to your social networking sites. That’s right. No Facebook. No Twitter. You’ll also be blocked from entertainment sites like Hulu. My favorite online backup storage site, Dropbox, is even banned here. So, do you have to go back to sending out mass emails with updates and pictures? No. If you need to make quick updates, or if you just want to check up on your friends, you can use a free VPN service. There are many. Just do a Google search.

With these sites, you simply type in the URl you want to visit, and you are redirected there through an overseas server. These sites work, usually, but they are slow and clunky, and you’ll become frustrated if you have to use them all the time. If you are a traveler, don’t worry about it. They’ll suite you just fine.

If you plan on living here, though, you may want to consider a faster, more stable option, a paid VPN service. With paid VPN services, you pay an annual fee of between $50 and $100, depending on your needs. You then download the company’s software to your hard drive. The software then reroutes all of your computer’s Internet traffic through a server that you select from a drop down menu. With my VPN I can choose servers in America or in England. You are now free to visit sites you please.

A word of warning, however. Certain websites, like those of financial institutions, can detect that you are using a VPN. They know that you are hiding your location, but they don’t know why, which makes them think you are engaged in some sort of fraudulent behavior. My PayPal account was recently suspended. Upon speaking to a customer service agent, I learned that it was due to my attempt to make a purchase while masking my IP address (using a VPN).

Don’t worry too much about this, though. Sites like PayPal, and other financial institutions, are not blocked in China, so you don’t need to use a VPN to access them anyway. And turning your VPN on and off is just a matter of making a single click. So, for those of you worried about facing Facebook withdrawals while in China, don’t worry. Your Farmville friends are just a click away.

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