Tencent helps Chinese students avoid prohibitive speeds for overseas school websites – TechCrunch
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students enrolled in schools abroad 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 excruciatingly slowly as all web traffic has to go through the country’s censorship apparatus known as ” great firewall â.
Spotting a business opportunity, Alibaba’s cloud unit worked on connecting students in China to their overseas university portals via a virtual private network. arrangement with US cybersecurity solutions provider Fortinet to provide, Reuters reported last July, claiming that Tencent had a similar product.
Details of Tencent’s offer have been released. An application called “Accelerating education in Chang’eÂ»Debuted on the Apple App Store in March, helping to speed up load times for selected educational services overseas. It describes itself in a nutshell: “A free online learning accelerator from Tencent, with a mission to provide Internet acceleration services and research in educational resources to domestic and foreign students and researchers.”
Unlike Alibaba’s VPN for academic use, Chang’e is not a VPN, the company told TechCrunch. The company hasn’t said how it defines VPN or explained how Chang’e technically works. Tencent said Chang’e was rolled out on 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 otherwise refer to its euphemism as âacceleratorâ or âscientific internet navigation toolâ. When Chang’e is enabled, the iPhone’s VPN status is shown as âenabled,â according to a test by TechCrunch.
On the home page, Chang’e asks users to choose from eight countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, for “speeding up.” It also shows the latency and expected speed increased 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 from the US and UK; team collaboration tools like 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 are slowly loading on mainland China behind the âgreat firewallâ. Users can request that sites that are not already on the list be included.
Chang’e appears to have whitelisted only chosen sites rather than all traffic on a user’s smartphone. Google, Facebook, YouTube and other websites banned in China are still not available when 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 request real-name registrations. users.
The Alibaba and Tencent 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 deem harmless.
VPN providers must get the green light from the government to operate legally in China, and users of licensed VPN services are forbidden to browsing websites thought we were 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 Tuber browser were giving Chinese users a rare glimpse into the global internet ecosystem of Facebook, YouTube, Google, and other mainstream apps, but the app was removed shortly. long after the article was published.