Uganda the central African nation sandwiched between 5 countries has seen a huge increase in the interest of VPN services as their so-called ‘Social Media’ tax takes effect.
The tax which came into force on 1st July requires users of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram plus communications apps like Whatsapp to pay a ‘tax’.
The tax as reported in the Ugandan Observer newspaper has led to a huge increase in online searches for the term ‘VPN’ across the country.
Ugandan VPN interest increases
In the 7 days prior to the Ugandan social media tax coming into force, Google reported very low levels of searches for the term ‘VPN’ putting them between 0 – 5 on their popularity scale. The Ugandan Observer reports that as of 1 am on 1st July when the social media tax came into effect this has skyrocketed to 100, the highest on the scale.
Ugandan internet users who want to access services including Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Whatsapp, Skype and Viber plus others are required to pay a local ‘tax’ of 200 Ugandan Shillings per day which is approximately 5 US cents or around 3 pence in the UK.
While the amount may seem small by western standards, in a country where it’s claimed 82 percent of the population earn less than a dollar a day or 75 pence, a 3 pence deduction each day will soon make an impact to many ordinary Ugandans.
In a bid to avoid paying, savvy Ugandans have taken online to search for the best VPN for Uganda to avoid the tax.
While it is commendable that the citizens of Uganda are prepared to stand up for their online freedoms and rights, they could unfortunately be fighting a losing or risky battle.
With the average VPN service being run by Western-priced companies, a typical reliable VPN service can cost approximately $5 per month which equates to around 19,400 Ugandan Shillings, or a daily rate of around 646 Ugandan Shillings. More than paying the social media tax itself.
Ugandans forced to risk their privacy
The upshot is many Ugandan citizens will search for ‘free’ VPN services as a way of beating the social media tax to save on the relatively high cost of subscription-based VPN services.
This could open Ugandans up to a whole host of online privacy issues. Many VPN services that claim to be ‘free’ often retain details on their users to use as leverage for sale to pay for the service.
We’ve discovered that some of the most popular ‘free’ VPN services such as TurboVPN have questionable owners based out of China with little information on who actually runs the service.
TurboVPN isn’t alone as services like HotSpot Shield, Hola and others have also been found to either be selling user data, using their system resources or not even providing a VPN service but instead installing malware.
The only possible silver lining is the increase of devices many VPN services allow users to utilise with one account. IPVanish for example recently increased their limit to 10 devices concurrently connected on one account.
If groups of Ugandans got together they could essentially pick up a reliable VPN service for as little as 84 shillings each per day, saving over half of the social media tax while thumbing their nose at the government.
VPN use not new for Uganda
The social media tax first came to light in April of this year but was claimed not to be a tax on users but on the international corporations who make money from Ugandans but pay little if any tax in the country.
The tax was claimed to promote innovation in Uganda but with a small tech industry, it appears the only losers are ordinary Ugandan citizens who will now either need to stump up money for the tax or go without access to the world’s largest social media networks.
VPN use is certainly not new for Uganda after 2016 elections saw sites Facebook and Twitter and communication app Whatsapp blocked across the country.
The response in Uganda was similar to now, ordinary citizens flocked online searching for VPN services to bypass the blocks.
While Ugandans now have something of a conundrum, either pay the social media tax or pay a VPN service, one thing is clear, they won’t be taking the new tax lying down and the government could discover its ill-thought-out idea is destined to fail.