Dodging censorship: VPN demand surges ‘6,000% in Pakistan’

Internet privacy company Proton says it had seen major surges in demand in a number of places over past 12 months

AFP March 06, 2024


Internet privacy company Proton said on Wednesday it would offer a network of free VPN servers for use in many countries holding elections this year that have a history of censorship and repression.

Switzerland-based Proton said its aim was to help local populations circumvent government censorship, and to prevent interference or misinformation during the election campaigns.

The company maintains that tracking demand for its VPN services is a means of early detection of government crackdowns and attacks on free speech.

Proton said it had seen major surges in demand in a number of places over the past 12 months. It said it had seen demand hikes of 4,700 per cent in Nepal, 6,000 per cent in Pakistan, 25,000 per cent in Gabon and 100,000 per cent in Senegal, "all in response to political or civil unrest".

In a year when around half the global population will head to the polls, Proton said it was vital to provide broad access to virtual private network services, which can be used to skirt internet censorship and freely access information.

Venezuela, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Turkey were among the countries where the company said it would provide its free servers.

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"2024 is set to be a seismic year for democracy around the world," Proton chief Andy Yen said in a statement.

"Many of the countries holding elections have a questionable track record for free speech and a free electoral process," he pointed out.

"Protecting free speech and fighting censorship is a core part of our mission and we're committed to doing what we can to help voters around the world exercise their fundamental rights."

Proton, also known for its encrypted email service, said that for two weeks before and after key elections, it would offer free local servers to users who appear to be logging on from the country where the vote is taking place.

The technical implementation will vary depending on the circumstances in the country, the company said.

It pointed out that it could use its "smart routing technology" allowing it to offer VPN servers in countries where it is unable to have a physical presence.

The servers are located in nearby locations but still have the ability to bypass government censorship, it said.

"This means local users will be able to access the free, unfiltered internet at high speeds without servers being overloaded by users from the rest of the world," Proton maintained.


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