Police in China arrested a man for selling VPN software that helps circumvent the country’s stringent online censorship system. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are the most common tools used in China to hop over the Great Firewall and access foreign websites and apps including Facebook, Google and news sites.

“People use it for ordinary things, to watch videos and read the news,” said the man, known under the pseudonym Gao, to local media. He added that he didn’t think users were doing anything illegal.

The 29-year-old graduate student has confessed, but is still awaiting his sentence in Jiangsu province. According to the report, Gao made 11 million yuan (US$1.6 million) from selling the service since 2016.

VPNs in China must be good business, since the seller reportedly made US$1.58 million. (Picture: Shutterstock)

China uses an intricate system of online censorship known as the Great Firewall to block foreign websites. The country toughened up on tools to avoid censorship in 2017, with one VPN seller sentenced to a five-year prison term amid the crackdown. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology then stipulated that VPNs can only be offered with approval from relevant departments. Soon after, Apple removed VPN apps from its App Store on the mainland.

Arrests for offering VPN services in China are not uncommon. Just last week, another man was arrested in Shenzhen for the same offense, according to Southern Metropolis Daily, while another arrest took place in October last year in Hangzhou. The same year in May, police in Yixing City even said they made an arrest after spotting a foreign short video app installed on a citizen’s mobile phone.