Safeguarding fundamental privacy rights is our top priority
The Chinese government recently passed a security law that applies to the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. The law directly challenges user privacy by permitting the Chinese government to request that companies turn over data from users the Chinese government deems a threat to its national security. This has been heavily criticized by privacy and human rights advocates alike, as the data obtained by the government could be used as evidence against everyday people.
In response to these events, Avast has temporarily moved the servers for our VPN business out of Hong Kong, and we now redirect our Hong Kong customers' traffic to nearby locations (more on this below).
Some background info on the Chinese political situation
In February 2019, the government of Hong Kong attempted to pass a law that would allow the Chinese government to extradite alleged criminals in the city to mainland China. Many feared this would enable the party to suppress free speech, detain critics and attack anyone who opposed them.
Protests that were broadcast around the globe erupted, inspiring those who advocate for freedom of speech and the right to privacy. Ultimately, the extradition bill didn’t pass, but by that point, the protests had grown in scope and scale. They led to Hong Kong’s Chinese-controlled Congress passing new security legislation giving it unprecedented levels of power and control over the once largely independent territory.
This new legislation not only empowers the Chinese government to imprison dissenters but also criminalizes communications tools and methods that they use to express their dissent.
VPNs help provide anonymity online and are used by political organizers as a means of shielding communications from surveillance. While they are a vital tool to ensure online privacy, they are often the target of authoritarian regimes in certain countries.
So, what now?
After careful consideration, we have decided (at least temporarily) to pull our VPN servers from Hong Kong. Traffic will be rerouted via nearby locations, such as Taiwan and Singapore.
As we learn more about the enforcement of the new law in China, it’s crucial that we keep our eyes open for measures including the potential use of wiretaps and surveillance by the authorities.
A message specifically to our users in Hong Kong We want to make it clear: we are not giving up on you. We will continue to offer our services so that you can continue to encrypt your connection using our servers in other locations, and in the meantime, we will continue to promote your ability to access a free and uncensored internet for as long as we possibly can. We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely.
Avast was founded on the principles of unfettered access to the internet and the right to explore our digital world safely and privately. At this time, our decision to move our servers for Avast SecureLine VPN, AVG Secure VPN, and HMA to other locations is purely preemptive and made out of an abundance of caution and concern for user privacy.