Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students enrolled in overseas schools are stranded as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives and airlines around the world. Learning at home in China, they all face a challenge: Their schools’ websites and other academic resources load extremely slowly because all web traffic has to go through the country’s censorship apparatus known as of “great firewall”.
Spotting a business opportunity, Alibaba’s cloud unit worked to connect students in China to their university portals abroad through a virtual private network agreement with US cybersecurity solutions provider Fortinet, Reuters reported in July. last, claiming that Tencent had a similar product.
Details of Tencent’s offer have been revealed. An app called “Chang’e Education Acceleration” debuted on Apple’s App Store in March, helping to speed up load times for selected educational services abroad. It describes itself in a nutshell: “A free online learning accelerator from Tencent, whose mission is to provide Internet acceleration and search services in educational resources to students and researchers at home and abroad. foreign. “
Unlike Alibaba’s VPN for academic use, Chang’e is not a VPN, the company told TechCrunch. The firm has not said how it defines VPN or explained how Chang’e technically works. Tencent said Chang’e was rolled out to the app’s official website in October.
The word “VPN” is a loaded term in China because it often involves illegally bypassing the “great firewall”. People refer to its euphemism as “accelerator” or “scientific Internet browsing tool” otherwise. When Chang’e is turned on, the iPhone’s VPN status is displayed as “on,” according to a test from TechCrunch.
On the home page, Chang’e asks users to choose from eight countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, to “speed up.” It also shows the increase in latency and speed expected for each region.
Once a country is chosen, Chang’e displays a list of educational resources that users can visit on the app’s built-in browser. They include the websites of 79 top universities, mostly US and UK; team collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Trello, and Slack; UDemy, Coursera, Lynda and Khan Academy distance learning platforms; research networks such as SSRN and JSTOR; programming and engineering communities like Stack Overflow, Codeacademy and IEEE; World Bank and OECD economic databases; as well as resources for medical students like PubMed and Lancet.
Many of these services are not blocked in China, but load slowly in mainland China behind the “great firewall”. Users can request that sites that are not already on the list be included.
Chang’e appears to have only whitelisted his chosen sites rather than all traffic on a user’s smartphone. Google, Facebook, YouTube, and other banned sites in China are still unavailable while the Chang’e is at work. The app, available for free on Android and iOS, currently does not require users to register, a rare move in a country where online activity is strictly regulated and most websites require users to register. register under their real name.
Alibaba and Tencent’s offers are indicative of the unintended consequences caused by Beijing’s censorship system designed to block information deemed illegal or harmful to China’s national interest. Universities, research institutes, multinational corporations and exporters are often forced to seek censorship circumvention apps for purposes that authorities would consider harmless.
VPN providers must get the green light from the government to operate legally in China, and users of licensed VPN services are prohibited from browsing websites that believe we are endangering China’s national security. In 2017, Apple removed hundreds of unlicensed VPN apps from its Chinese App Store at Beijing’s request.
In October, TechCrunch reported that the VPN app and the Tuber browser gave Chinese users a rare glimpse into the global internet ecosystem of Facebook, YouTube, Google, and other mainstream apps, but the app was removed. shortly after the article was published.