Several VPN providers report that Hong Kong has seen a significant increase in their services in recent days. That probably has to do with recently unfolded plans by the Chinese government to introduce a new security law for Hong Kong.
The free-to-use Atlas VPN, among others, reports based on its own user data that there was an increase in installations of 520 percent on May 21 compared to the day before. The percentages also increased considerably in the following days compared to the day before. From May 22 to 24, the percentages were 210, 133 and 265 percent respectively, according to Atlas VPN. On May 20 and before, no significant peak was seen.
NordVPN also reported a significant spike. The company said it received 120 times more questions about its service compared to the day before. It was one of the largest spikes in VPN connection demand ever seen, according to a company statement reported by the South China Morning Post. According to Google Trends, the search term ‘vpn’ suddenly reached the highest interest in Hong Kong on May 21, while it was not a popular search term in the period before.
On May 21, it was announced that the Chinese government plans to introduce a new security law in Hong Kong. This makes secession from China and engaging in incendiary activities punishable. In practice, this seems to mean that protesting against the government becomes difficult or impossible. According to activist Joshua Wong the new security law will put an end to future democratic movements, because all pro-democracy demonstrations can be classified as subversive acts against the Chinese authority.
Incidentally, it is not uncommon for VPN providers to see spikes after a government announces certain surveillance or privacy measures. For example, there were also peaks when the US rejected the strict net neutrality rules from the Obama administration in 2018.