Private network sales have soared since the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine, to 35 times higher than before the first day of the Kremlin-backed invasion, according to internal data released by VPN provider Surfshark.
The firm’s bonanza comes amid revelations that Russia’s regulator Roskomnadzor has forced Google to shut down 36,000 URLs linking to private networks in the past month.
It said the highest increase in delisting requests came during the second week of war, when major platforms YouTube, Facebook and Twitter joined a growing exodus of Western companies pulling out of Russia.
Now it looks as though that mass pull-out and sweeping censorship have prompted many ordinary Russians to seek alternative ways of keeping themselves informed.
“A rapid surge in [VPN] downloads means that people living in Russia are actively looking for ways to avoid government surveillance and censorship, be it accessing blocked websites or social media,” said a spokesperson for Surfshark.
“As the number of shut-down websites grows every day, VPN services act as a window to reach unbiased information and untracked communication channels.”
During the invasion’s first week, the increase in Kremlin requests to delist URLs was slight, just 7%. But when Russia declared its blockade of Western media the following week, the number grew by 55%, said Surfshark.
Not since China
It added that it had not seen an uptick like this since China’s decision to crack down on Hong Kong protestors in 2020 – and even then the rise in VPN downloads was only sevenfold, an increase rate dwarfed by the recent developments in Russia.
But Surfshark stressed that moves by the Federation to restrict its citizens’ access to unbiased information sources were not new – citing Kremlin orders to Google over the past two years to remove search links to more than half a million anti-censorship tools.
Furthermore, Surfshark suggested that Moscow will go further still and partition itself off from the global digital community – a claim that bears weight in light of Russia’s successful testing in 2019 of its own exclusive version of the world wide web.
“Millions of Russians rely on the internet for unbiased information on war and current domestic and international affairs,” said Surfshark. “It’s evident that Russia has long been preparing a cut off from the global internet, and its Ukraine invasion is a turning point.”
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