The Times of India was once a reputable newspaper regarded for its searingly honest and impartial take on current events. However, its recent article on VPNs in India reads like government propaganda.
The article in question is entitled Troubling trend: Scamsters take VPN route from lesser-known foreign lands and, in a country where the Government is cracking down on VPNs like never before, reads like a piece of government propaganda, it’s almost hard to believe.
What the article claims
The article describes VPNs as “a loophole to escape the clutches of Indian laws and law enforcement” and goes on to weave a tale of cybercriminals using VPNs to scam innocent law-abiding Indian citizens.
It quotes unnamed local police officials explaining how they were using VPNs to artificially inflate the ratings of movies online.
“While probing a movie rating scam, we discovered fraudsters were artificially inflating ratings of films using artificial intelligence,” the unnamed officer from Jamnager Cybercrime Police explained.
Perhaps realising how utterly nonsensical this sounded, another officer chimed in to say that the same ‘scamsters’ were also involved in “ransomware, phishing, card fraud, and sextortion cases in India.” I think that’s a full house!
To undertake these heinous activities, these ‘scamsters’ are hiding behind a VPN, with the officers specifically identifying two locations that are being used, the Marshall Islands and the Sahel region of Africa.
Breaking down the claims
Let’s take a look at these rather outlandish claims in more detail.
Firstly, artificially inflating the ratings of movies. Is this really such a significant crime that they see fit to lead with it? As a regular user of Netflix, I have watched hundreds of movies where the ratings must have been inflated. Either that, or Netflix users have a horrible taste in movies.
How is inflating movie ratings such a sin? How is it criminal? How are these ‘scamsters’ making money from it? It just doesn’t make sense.
The police source seems to realise this as they quickly expand to talking about more recognised cybercrimes and may have convinced readers had they not listed the usual online financial scams and the added sextortion on the end.
Cybercriminals who are harvesting card details and sending out ransomware are not the same ones who commit sextortion offences. And they certainly don’t have a side-line in bumping up movie ratings.
Then there are the locations, the Marshall Islands and the Sahel region of Africa. All VPNs offer servers in a multitude of countries. While some do, very few VPNs offer servers in the Marshall Islands.
Africa is usually not well represented either, and the Sahel region isn’t even a country. These location choices are deliberately vague but, as a result, just not credible.
The piece quotes one police officer who said “Several VPN providers have chosen to relocate to the Sahel region of Africa”. We’re aware of no legitimate VPN provider that has done so.
If a cybercriminal in India wants to hide behind a VPN server, he will use one from a neighbouring non-friendly country to maximise speeds, not a Pacific Island or a non-descript African region.
So, what’s the point of all this?
Given all this, you might be wondering what the point is of the Times of India running an article of this type.
The answer can be found in the final paragraph. Here it is explained that the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team has just issued regulations requiring VPNs in India to keep records of their users online activity for an astonishing five years.
They know reputable VPNs will not comply with this. They also know that while they can subsequently ban VPNs, people will still find a way to use them.
So, stories like this are intended to demonise VPNs. They are deliberately portraying them as a criminal tool, something that Indian people should be ashamed to use. It is transparent, and awfully written, anti-VPN propaganda.
The truth is that the Modi Government in India has been cracking down on people’s online rights for years in an effort to maintain their grip on power and to try and win contentious issues such as Kashmir.
VPNs are a tool that allow Indian people to read the truth about Modi, his government, and what is happening in India. They are a tool of freedom and truth and that is the last thing that the Indian Government want the people of this great country to access at the moment.
VPNs can be used by criminals, of course. That is not something we condone. But they are also used by ordinary people to protect their online security and privacy and to get around the censorship and surveillance of Governments just like Modi’s in India.
And that is why, far from being scared off VPNs by propaganda like this terrible article, VPNs should be used by every single Indian internet user, every day of the week.