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TOP 10 events that threatened internet freedom in 2020

calendarJanuary 25, 2021

Civil unrest and social media blocks caused spikes in demand for online privacy tools to overcome censorship and bans

The top ten events that jeopardized internet freedom pushed people to look for ways to protect it, resulting in spikes in demand for NordVPN. The demand (or interest) signals that people feel urged to look for ways out of the situation they are being forced into.

  • September 29, Azerbaijan. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 14,800%. As the violent clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia continued to escalate over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies of Azerbaijan took action to restrict internet access across the country, including access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and others. As a result, residents of Azerbaijan sought to regain access to online communication by adopting VPN tools.
  • May 22, Hong Kong. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 12,000%. Following a lengthy period of contentious pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government introduced a new controversial security law. Officially, the law bans “secession, subversion, foreign interference, and terrorism” , but, in practice, it is suppression of freedom of speech. VPN demand in Hong Kong spiked immediately following the introduction of the security law.
  • June 26, Turkey. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 1,902%. Demand for VPNs spiked considerably in Turkey immediately following the announcement about the Turkish government’s proposal to restrict social media sites and ban VPN services in the country. The proposed bill stated that social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok would be forced to remove certain content upon request or identify users.
  • August 10, Belarus. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 978%. In August, the government of Belarus shut down the internet and cellular access to its citizens following mass protests and public unrest in the wake of the election that saw the long-time president Aleksandr Lukashenko win a sixth term despite widespread reports that the election was rigged in the authoritarian president's favor.
  • September 25, Brazil. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 740%. Brazil's sweeping data protection law came into effect. The Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) is essentially Brazil's version of the European Union's GDPR and affords Brazilian residents nine fundamental rights that mirror the data subject rights of the GDPR almost identically. Events like these are instrumental in encouraging citizens to consider their digital privacy and to take action to protect their privacy online with tools like a VPN.
  • January 29, South Korea. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 322%. VPN interest spiked following the announcement in January that the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance had expanded to include South Korea. Being a part of the Five Eyes alliance means that South Korean citizens will be subject to monitoring and surveillance activities.
  • November 2, Thailand. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 301%. Pursuant to its cybercrime law, the government of Thailand blocked 190 pornography and gambling sites, including the famous pornhub.com. The action caused an outrage among the citizens of Thailand. Thai spent more time on Pornhub than any other country in 2019 — 11 minutes and 21 seconds on average.
  • November 23, Japan. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 148%. The Japanese rushed to equip themselves with VPN online security tools amid the coronavirus outbreak after it was announced that Sapporo and Osaka will be excluded from the domestic travel subsidy campaign for three weeks due to a recent resurgence of coronavirus cases. Additionally, an amendment to the Act on the Protection of Personal Information and amendments to copyright laws concerning Manga downloads were introduced around the same time.
  • March 26, India. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 134%. At the end of January 2020, India lifted the internet ban in Kashmir but still left its citizens with no access to social media. Later, internet access was reinstated but didn’t last long. At the end of February 2020, India shut down the internet in Kashmir again. When the Indian government restored the region's internet access in March, VPN use in Kashmir skyrocketed.
  • September 20, USA. Overnight increase of interest in VPN services: 34%. TikTok and WeChat app downloads were set to be banned in the US on September 21, resulting in a rapid growth of inquiries for VPN services. Following the Oracle-Walmart deal, Trump’s order was averted.

“2020 was turbulent in many ways, including attempts to restrict the free internet. This year alone, NordVPN received 7,254 emergency VPN access requests from journalists and activists. This is 10 times more than a year ago. Most of the requests came from Hong Kong, but we also received requests from Iran, Kashmir, Burma, and other countries with strict internet censorship and heavy surveillance. Not to mention the people who got affected by the bans and sought solutions to protect their online identities,” says Laura Tyrell, Head of PR at NordVPN.

ProPrivacy Digital Privacy Researcher Attila Tomaschek believes that VPNs have become a crucial tool for those wishing to maintain their digital freedom in a tumultuous year. “We’ve seen multiple instances this year where governments have taken action to exert control over their citizens both online and in person, typically under the guise of national security, public health or upholding morality.”

VPNs can be used for many things, but, most importantly, VPNs are a crucial tool that citizens can use to secure their digital privacy, bypass censorship efforts, and preserve their human rights and freedom of expression in the face of government oppression.

Notes to editor

Methodology

This data was collected by Google Analytics. The spike percentage was calculated by measuring NordVPN’s website traffic compared to the day before. Statistical significance was considered, therefore more countries were eliminated from the list.

The data was collected for the year 2020, starting January 1 and ending November 26.

About NordVPN

NordVPN is the world’s most advanced VPN service provider used by over 14 million internet users worldwide. NordVPN provides double VPN encryption, malware blocking, and Onion Over VPN. The product is very user-friendly, offers one of the best prices on the market, has over 5,000 servers in 60 countries worldwide, and is P2P-friendly. One of the key features of NordVPN is the zero-log policy.