VPN providers target censorship-shy Aussies

Hot on the heels of revelations that there will be no legal repercussions for people that circumvent Stephen Conroy’s proposed Internet filter it appears overseas virtual private network providers are wasting no time building a market for one-click filter circumvention.

VPNSecure.me a provider of encrypted Web proxy services charges just $US8 per month for a service that will allow Australians to circumvent the filter’s access restrictions. Although the service has been around for some time its Web page now reflects the company’s new marketing strategy with the top-page statement that the product will “Bypass the Australian internet censorship from conroy (sic)”.

In a nod to search engine optimisation the site’s title now reads “VPN Tunnel Australian internet censorship work around stephen conroy filter”. Billed as an “easy to setup proxy and vpn” VPNSecure “support all devices and platforms” including Windows Linux Mac OS X iPhone Blackberry and Android. The organisation offers “huge usage limits if we feel you are abusing the service we will let you know.”

But the company isn’t the only one cozying up to potential Australian customers: rival privacy.io has added the AUD to its list of pricing – addressing a presumed Australian customer base by listing its prices (also $8 per month) in Australian dollars alongside the EUR USD and GBP. Canadian VPN provider Blacklogic doesn’t mention Australia by name but markets its $US15/month service to customers that “live in a country that restricts your Internet access”. Similar wording is used by many other VPN providers (a sample list can be found here) although Australia hasn’t been singled out by most yet.

VPNSecure.me however isn’t wasting any time. Its move to market to Australians reflects the country’s growing worldwide notoriety in the wake of planned legislation to filter the access of all Australian Internet users. Opponents of the filter have become vocal in their efforts to educate people to circumvent it with pro-euthanasia group Exit International recently joining forces with the Pirate Party of Australia to teach senior citizens how proxies and VPNs work. Computerworld Australia published the slides used in those classes making the information widely available online.

Widespread public awareness of the planned lack of penalties for circumventing the filter has challenged Conroy to justify the expenditure of millions of dollars on a controversial policy that has polarised the online public and drawn attention at the highest levels of governments in the United States and elsewhere. This week Conroy told the ABC’s Four Corners program that he and the US government were “going to agree to disagree” on the policy. Yet despite the uproar against the filter it was revealed recently that the laws haven’t even been drafted yet although Conroy has repeatedly refused to rule out introducing the legislation before the upcoming election.

Nonetheless his office has not been totally quiet on the potential for systematic circumvention of the filter. “We would be concerned if an ISP actively promoted sites or instructions for the specific purpose of circumventing the filter” it recently wrote in a statement. “The Department is exploring whether the legislation needs to make this deliberate and specific promotion of circumvention an offence or whether it is already adequately addressed through existing offences in legislation.”