According to Google, Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers are banned from buying banner ads on Google as of 2019 in Mainland China.
Google and China
The tech giant’s tumultuous relationship with the country has been persistent for the last decade. Google has had an on-again and off-again relationship with the country’s governance and legal status of internet censorship.
As per the opinion of the experts, the recent development of bans on the advertisement for anti-censorship services in the country shows Google’s will to bend at the government’s demands.
In January, General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs Staff, stated that the search giant’s work in the country benefits the Chinese military, albeit indirectly. Real Americans believed the general, not Google.
For years before the ban, many accusations have echoed from all over the world, and from Google employees that the Chinese military has been capitalizing on Google’s business activities in the country. President Donald Trump soon seconded these accusations in 2019.
Is Google in the clear?
Over the years, several of Google’s projects have drawn criticism from all across the globe.
One of the very recent outrages followed a leak from the corporation that hinted its work on the development of artificial intelligence (AI), which would analyze the drone footage for Project Maven sponsored by the Pentagon.
Another similar incident occurred in 2018 when Project Dragonfly came to the limelight. According to reports, Google was working on a specialized search engine for the country’s censored internet market in secret.
The outcry was later joined by the Google employees as well, which prompted a rather diplomatic response from Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who publicly pledged to no work on the same, at the time.
What’s going on between Google and China?
In 2010, Google withdrew a majority of its products and services from the Chinese market following extensive censorship that was imposed by the government.
However, it is quite evident that some parts and products have always been operational. A greater part of the operational products fuels the distribution of Android tech and software.
Some of it relates to third-party websites that carry Google Adverts. Irrespective of Google’s past attempts to remain neutral, the company’s latest endeavors indicate a new attempt at gaining the Chinese government and its official’s favor.
That would help the tech giant regain its foothold in the country’s tumultuous and censored internet market.
Has China’s market regulator called for a ban on VPN ads?
In March 2019, China’s leading market regulator demanded close monitoring of all online ads in the country. It can be seen as another attempt by the country’s government to clean up the “illegal” content from the web.
The State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), China has called upon the local authorities via public notice to investigate all advertisements that involve vulgar content and politically sensitive content. The policing has inevitably extended to adverts for VPN services on Google Ads platform.
This step has resulted in a new ban on the distribution of VPN ads on Google platforms in China. According to tech experts, VPN services are not new in China.
A significant portion of the internet users depends upon VPN for checking their emails, use Google’s uncensored search engine versions, and access cloud services.
VPN not only provides access to “banned” content in the country, but it also provides an extra layer of protection for those, who access proprietary content using public networks or unsecured networks.
Is Google bowing to China’s censorship laws?
However, according to a Google Spokesperson, the practice of banning or censoring certain ads in China is not new. In fact, it was Google who prohibited the distribution of VPN and other anti-censorship services ads in the country.
Two companies that review VPN software in China have reported that Google has refused to sell the ads to the Chinese although they have been doing so for the last two years.
Google representatives have responded, “It is not new. Certain legal restrictions prompt Google’s policy to not allow the promotion of VPN services in the country…all advertisements have to comply with the Chinese local laws.”
What’s the status of VPN providers in China?
The dispute stems from the fact that the display of ads of VPN services does not violate the laws of the country.
This has enraged several VPN providers and related sites that have used Google Ads to promote their business and services for years. According to Charlie Smith of GreatFire.org, “in China, there are several legally registered VPN services. The only way to interpret this ban is Google’s inability to abide by local regulations.”
According to Smith, unless Google has overstepped its bounds, it is unlikely for the tech giant to issue an overall ban for all VPN ads from the platform.
Is there truly a ban on VPN ads in China?
By now it is quite apparent that there is no explicit ban on VPN products or providers in China. People still use legally registered VPN services for checking mails and accessing cloud content securely.
Most of these VPN providers have obtained licenses to operate within the country. Moreover, none of the VPN ads on Google Platforms violated the norms of censorship in the country.
Therefore, there is a strong possibility that the ban on VPN ads is Google’s initiative rather than an action to comply with the government’s policies.
The non-Chinese language advertisements remain unaffected by the regulation to date. That is another fact that suggests that Google must have succumbed to the pressure from Beijing that aims to block only those ads that target the Chinese audience.
The persistence of non-Chinese language ads of VPN services shows that as long as the company targets the non-native population, they are “legal” and free to run on the advertisement platforms.
One should note that the company’s spokespeople have been unreachable for comment on the sudden cessation of VPN ads on Google.