‘As of early March, subscriptions went through the roof. We observed a 500 percent rise in subscriptions from Australia. Traffic and sales from the Australian region has surpassed even the United States!’
Although not quite so spectacular, TorGuard has also seen a sharp rise in new Australian subscribers,
‘Over the past week TorGuard has seen a massive jump in Australian subscribers. Traffic from this region is currently up over 150% and recent trends indicate that the upsurge is here to stay. VPN router sales to Australia have also increased significantly with AU orders now representing 50% of all weekly shipments.’
Looking at Google Trends, we can clearly see a similar pattern.
Google Trends results for the search term ‘VPN’ made from Australia over the last 90 days
So what is going on? Well, there have been some important developments in Australia that are likely fueling this surge of interest in VPN…
New data retention laws
Last month the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 (.pdf) was passed by the Senate. It requires that all Australian IPSs and communications providers store customers’ metadata, such as when a call is made (or an email sent etc.), to whom it is made, how long it lasts, the location it was sent from and to, etc. etc.) This data is to be kept for two years (although as a sop to international business interests, international web-based services such Gmail, Facebook and Skype are excluded.)
The data will of course be accessible to Australian law enforcement and security agencies (and therefore, as Australia is a member of the Five Eyes anglophone spying alliance, to the NSA and GCHQ aswell). As is usual in such situations, the Australian government has been keen to downplay the significance of metadata collection, which somewhat dodges the question of why, if such data is not important, are governments everywhere going to such lengths to obtain it?
Given these new government surveillance powers, it seems reasonable to assume that many Australians who wish to protect their privacy are turning to VPN. What is less clear is whether the new rules apply to VPN providers, so would advise that Australian VPN users concerned about their privacy use overseas providers and off-shore servers.
Dallas Buyers Club and the anti-piracy crackdown
Earlier this month a landmark Federal Court ruling ordered ISP iiNet to hand over the details of some 4,700 customers accused by the owners of downloading via BitTorrent the Oscar nominated film Dallas Buyers Club. Not only are the accused likely to be fined, but the ruling paves the way for US-style speculative invoicing to blight Australian internet users.
As if this development was not bad enough, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 was introduced to parliament last month (the legislation has not yet been passed), mandating that ISP’s take ‘reasonable steps to disable access to content that infringes copyright.’ This will result in any website deemed to promote or enable copyright piracy being blocked at the IP level.
Furthermore, recently filed with the Australian Communications and Media Authority is the Copyright Notice Scheme code, which ‘aims to drive down the rate of online piracy through a cooperative response involving Internet Service Providers (ISPs).’ More specifically, this is a graduated response (‘three strikes’) scheme that can lead to legal action if customers are warned about alleged copyright violations more than three times within a year. Most ISP’s are expected to implement the scheme.
HBO Now and the Game of Thrones effect
When it comes to restrictive licencing deals for entertainment content readily available throughout the rest of the world, Australians have been pooed upon from a very great height. While a great many have turned to outright piracy of favorite series such as Game of Thrones, others prefer to sign-up for legitimate services such as Netflix, using technology such as VPN or SmartDNS to evade IP based geo-restrictions (Netflix has come under a lot of fire for its loose enforcement of its geo-restriction obligations). Ali Mansoor from PureVPN again,
‘Entertainment is probably the primary reason why people sign on to the service to begin with. So we look forward to the new season of Game of Thrones.’
A great deal of interest has recently been generated in Australia by the introduction by Game of Thrones makers HBO, of a new service called HBO Now. Unlike Netflix, HBO has taken strong measures to discourage the use of technologies such as VPN to sign-up subscribe from outside the US, but it is nevertheless believed many Australians have signed up anyway.
One thing these new developments, and the consequent boost in the popularity VPN use, has done, is to alarm among technologically clueless politicians that their laws and censorship measures can be evaded with almost trivial ease.
There has, in fact, even been some talk of banning VPN services altogether, although given that VPN is essential to many businesses, the huge technical challenges involved in effectively blocking VPN, and that any such move would immediately label Australia as one of the most oppressive countries in the world, this is almost certainly empty puff.
It is therefore likely that more and more Australians will begin to use VPN to evade censorship, watch the content they want to watch, and prevent their every move on the internet being monitored and logged (and passed onto the NSA…)