Jan 03, 2024

Global Adoption and Restrictions of VPNs – The Bright and Dark sides of Internet Freedom

Jonathan Zurel, Global Communications Manager at Hola

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Online Access Tools have become ubiquitous for internet users seeking enhanced access, IPs, and the ability to bypass geo-restrictions. But getting access to VPNs isn’t as much of a given as it once was. VPN adoption faces an increasing amount of restrictions.

With the rise of splinternets, firewalls and general online restrictions, it would be fair to say that with the added importance of VPNs have also come added threats. 

At Hola, we take them all in our stride and focus sharply on opportunities,as well as challenges. So let’s zoom in on the broader aspects of VPN adoption and the barriers posed by restrictions in various parts of the globe.

Global VPN adoption

The Global Surge in VPN Adoption and increase in restriction

As digital borders fluctuate and the internet becomes even more inextricably linked to our day-to-day, VPNs have experienced a surge in global adoption. Users are turning to VPN services for a whole bunch of reasons. These reasons include accessing region-restricted content, virtual IP address adoption, or even securing public Wi-Fi connections when at the airport, hotel lobby or corner café.

Breaking Down Geo-Restrictions

One of the primary drivers behind VPN adoption is the desire to access content that might be restricted in certain regions. Streaming platforms, online services, news sites and social media often enforce geo-restrictions due to licensing agreements, government regulations or so-called “morality laws”. VPNs offer users a solution by masking their IP addresses, allowing them to virtually relocate to a different region and access content that would otherwise be unavailable. Cool, right? So there’s basically no reason to ever miss another match, game, episode or movie (or anything else that tickles your fancy).

The Ongoing Battle Against VPN Restrictions

While VPNs empower users to navigate the internet freely, governments and institutions in various countries have implemented measures to control or restrict VPN usage, and by extension, access to information. These restrictions stem from concerns, warranted or not, related to national security, censorship, the desire to regulate the flow of information within a given region or even, an arbitrary “morality” concern. Here are some examples to consider:

The Great Firewall of China

The great firewalll of China and VPNs

China, known for its strict internet censorship policies, employs sophisticated methods to detect and block VPN traffic. The infamous "Great Firewall of China" is a comprehensive system that monitors and restricts access to foreign websites and services. As a result, Chinese citizens often face difficulties in using VPNs to access blocked content or bypass censorship.

Regulatory Challenges in Russia

In Russia, the government has implemented laws requiring VPN providers to register with the state and comply with data retention policies. This regulatory framework aims to control the use of VPNs and ensure that authorities can access user data when deemed necessary. These regulations have seen an increase since the start of the war in Ukraine. Such measures challenge the principles of privacy and freedom traditionally associated with VPNs.

Iranian Online Censorship of foreign websites deemed a threat to “morality” and more

Iran Online Censorship and VPNs

Iran has placed tight censoring measures on internet access during the last two decades, limiting residents' capacity to obtain information freely. This includes the blocking of various foreign and domestic websites, including well-known journalistic organizations. These limitations were kicked up a notch during the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests that rocked the nation for months, after the suspicious death of Mahsa Jina Amini, allegedly at the hands of Tehran’s morality police. It may not be surprising that according to the global organization, Freedom House, Iran saw the largest drop in internet freedom in 2023.

The Future of VPNs: Navigating a Complex Landscape

As VPNs continue to evolve and adapt to changing technological landscapes, users and providers alike must navigate the complex terrain of global regulations. VPN providers are faced with the challenge of balancing user privacy and complying with regional laws, while users must stay informed about the legal implications of VPN usage in their respective locations.

In conclusion, the global adoption of VPNs reflects the increasing need for individuals to exercise control over their online experiences. While VPNs offer a means to overcome geo-restrictions and ensure online freedom, they also face challenges from governments seeking to regulate and monitor internet usage. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the role of VPNs in shaping the future of online connectivity remains a dynamic and intriguing aspect of the ever-expanding virtual world.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. 


1. "China's Great Firewall: The Art of Effortful Control." Harvard Kennedy School Review.

2. "Russia Implements VPN Ban: What You Need to Know." TechRadar.

3. "VPN and Geo-Restrictions: How It Works." CNET.

4. “Internet Freedom in the Middle East Remained Restricted in 2023” - Freedom House

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