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Why VPN Access Is So Important & How It’s Helped Give A Voice To Millions

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Back in the mid-90s, Microsoft invented the Virtual Private Network, also known as the VPN. This breakthrough technology was developed so that remote employees could securely access their work network. Since then, VPN use has reached the consumer masses, allowing expats around the world to connect to a private network and access the web they know and love from back home.

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But the benefits of a VPN go far beyond content access, extending into such philosophical issues as human rights and freedom of speech and expression. VPN technology has given a voice to millions. Here’s how.

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How Does a VPN Work?

What is a VPN?

A VPN functions very much like it sounds. It allows you to set up a completely private, secure connection to another network, generally in another country. This enables you to browse the web as if you were in that country, while also creating an encrypted tunnel for your data so it can’t be intercepted by snoopers, hackers, and third parties.

Initially used as a way for employees to remotely and safely access their office network, consumer VPNs make the same benefits easily available to anyone, on any device.

Generally when you connect to a consumer VPN, you can select from a wide range of international servers and change your IP address — essentially a string of numbers that identifies your device’s location on the web.

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When you connect to an international VPN server, your actual IP address is masked and one of the VPN’s IP addresses is what faces the world, mimicking an IP address of the country you’ve selected, and that’s what allows you to experience the web as if you were actually sitting in your location of choice.

VPN Benefits

The major benefits of a VPN are four-fold and include the ability to: bypass online geo-restrictions and access otherwise restricted content and sites; protect your personal data from hackers and snoopers over unsecured Public Wi-Fi networks; conceal your digital footprints from government agencies, advertisers, and website owners; and last but not least, avoid online price discrimination to save considerable money on flights, rental cars, and software subscriptions.

VPN usage became especially popular in 2013 after the well-known Snowden leaks. Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, leaked classified NSA documents that revealed the agency’s extensive internet and phone surveillance.

For many of us, VPN benefits are undoubtedly invaluable. But for some, these benefits are essential — especially for citizens living in closed, highly censored societies.

Online Censorship Throughout the World

Over 65 countries around the world censor the Internet to some extent, and according to The Freedom House’s “Freedom on the Net” 2015 report, the level of Internet Freedom is steadily declining.

The Great Firewall of China

China is the most notorious example. Commonly known as the Great Firewall of China, China’s vast web of Internet censorship is among the most extensive in the world. The most popular and beloved social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, YouTube, and Instagram, are completely blocked.

In addition to social networks and social networking apps, the world’s leading search engine, Google, along with its many helpful utilities like Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Drive, is also unavailable. So is Duckduckgo, a search engine that doesn’t track your online activity.

But even if you’re on an approved search engine, many terms and keywords are still censored. For instance, spiritually-related topics like Falun Gong and of course, topics related to controversial political events such as Tiananmen Square are completely off limits.

Ironically, even some terms which could be potentially harmless like ‘jiang,’ which means river, are banned due to their association. Jiang is a common surname which happens to be tied to the rumours about the death of Jiang Zemin, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.

Along with social networks, popular search networks and specific search terms, international new sources, like the New York Times, and a number of photo and file sharing sites, like Dropbox and Flickr, are blocked as well. China’s Great Firewall is so restrictive that China’s Great Firewall inventor, Fang Binxing, was forced to use a VPN to bypass his very own creation when he gave a lecture on Internet safety.

Twitter Silenced in Turkey

But China is certainly not alone. In Turkey, apps and sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube have all been blocked at one point or another.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has even gone so far as to say that he is “increasingly against the Internet every day.” In March of 2014, when discussing Facebook and YouTube to a rally of supporters, he stated: “We will wipe out all of these.”

Two weeks later, prior to local elections and following the leak of potentially incriminating audio recordings, Twitter was blocked for several hours. One week later, YouTube was blocked as well.

Then in April of 2015, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were all blocked after photos of a prosecutor that was taken hostage and killed by militants began circulating on social media. The government demanded these networks remove these photos, and shortly after they complied, the sites went back online.

Most recently, social network outages occurred during both the Istanbul airport terror attack and military coup.

twitturkey

In the case of the airport attack, the Turkish government maintained the blocks were for “national security and public order.”

Mother Russia’s Rutnet

Russia is no friend of Internet freedom either. To more effectively censor, the country’s controversial blogging law requires bloggers with more than 3,000 readers to register with the authorities and publish content under their real names. In May of 2015, international sites and social networks, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook, all came close to being blocked for their refusal to hand over the names of bloggers and remove content the Russian General Attorney deemed to be “extremist.”

Prior to this, in April of 2014, Facebook, Gmail, and Skype came close to being banned due to the country’s “anti-terror” data snooping laws, which threatened to block the services unless they stored data on Russian soil.

The Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s top Internet regulator, is very sensitive to several topics of choice including: political protest, profanity, drugs, suicide, “gay propaganda,” and extremism. Because of this, pages like Reddit, GitHub, and Wikipedia have all been temporarily blocked. Youtube has also been in hot water. The entire site was almost blocked temporarily after hosting unauthorized copies of local Russian TV shows.

VPN Access & Freedom of Expression for All

In the face of online censorship, VPNs have proven to be a powerful tool for providing invaluable freedom of expression.

Fighting for Democracy: Uganda 2016 Elections

In February of 2016, the Ugandan presidential and parliamentary elections took place. This was a highly anticipated election for many who hoped to end the oppressive 30 year run of 71-year-old president Gen Y. K. Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

But when citizens took to the polls, they discovered that their access to social media services, including Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp, had been completely cut off.

According to Museveni, these were temporary measures to stop people from “creating trouble” and “telling lies.”

Left with no access, many Ugandans turned to VPNs. Over the course of the four-day ban, nearly 1.5 million citizens downloaded VPN software — 15 percent of the internet-using population.

With 77 percent of the population under 30 years old, Uganda is a country with the youngest population in the world, and so it’s no surprise that social media, and the lack thereof, played such a pivotal role in this election.

On social media, citizens were able to express their views regarding the corruption and unjust practices surrounding the election that included the deaths and arrests of innocent people, the use of tear gas, and the complete absence of ballot papers and boxes in certain locations. The hashtags #UgandaDecides and the satirical #MuseveniDecides began trending on Twitter.

Although Museveni was ultimately declared the winner, with just over 60 percent of the vote, young Ugandans were victorious in their own right. Their determination combined with VPN technology allowed them to bypass unjust censorship, speak out, and exercise their right to freedom of expression.

Protecting the Environment: Protests in Vietnam

On May 16th of this year, the Vietnam government shut down Facebook and Instagram as dissidents tried to protest an environmental disaster that caused millions of dead fish to wash up on shore.

Citizens believe the disaster was caused by the Vietnamese government and Taiwan’s Formosa plastics, specifically the wastewater with toxic discharge coming from the company’s steel plant. Meanwhile, Formosa denied wrongdoing and the Deputy Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources claimed the fish deaths were caused by toxic algae bloom or industrial waste.

In an effort to speak out and protest, hundreds of people poured out into the streets to protest in cities including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang, and more. They often used Facebook to organize the protests — hence the social media block.

Following suit, VPN providers experienced a surge in activity from Vietnamese users. One free proxy service, Hola, reported 200,000 Vietnamese users turning to their service over the course of one weekend.

For Vietnamese civilians, VPNs played a remarkable and pivotal role in their ability to speak out against environmental injustice and advocate on behalf of the natural world.

The Freedom to Communicate in Brazil

You know all those very useful calling apps you use to stay in touch with loved ones while you travel, or save on your phone bill? Well, you’d be surprised just how many countries censor and block them completely.

VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) apps, like Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber, are or have been blocked in numerous countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Pakistan, Egypt, and even Brazil — a country considered to be much more open and more moderate when it comes to Internet freedom.

Whatsapp has already been blocked three times in the country. The latest block took place on July 19th, but fortunately lasted only several hours. One block, however, in early May, took place over the course of 72 hours. Judge Marcel Mai Montalvão of the Sergipe state ordered the block as pushback after demanding Whatsapp turn over chat records related to a drug investigation. Yet Whatsapp, which now offers end-to-end encryption for 100 percent of the messages on its service, maintained they don’t keep such data, nor would they be able to decrypt the messages even if they did.

The result was a ban that had an immense impact on the larger Brazilian public.

JanKoum

Whatsapp is hugely popular in Brazil. In a country of 200 million people, it is the second most used app with over 100 million users, many of whom had to turn to VPNs or other encryption apps, like Telegram, to continue their normal communications.

The Fight for Freedom of Expression: #UnblockTheWeb

Certain VPN providers, recognizing the power of their platforms, have stepped up to the plate to advocate, fight for, and offer freedom of expression and speech. SaferVPN is one of them.

“Shortly after we founded SaferVPN one of the first emails we received was from a mother from Azerbaijan, ” said Sagi Gidali, Co-Founder and CPO of SaferVPN. “Her son was murdered in the army. She expressed to us that without our service she wouldn’t have been able to fully access the web to tell his story.”

“Thanks to the VPN,” said Sagi, “she was able to bypass strict online censorship and express herself freely.”

This got the Co-founders of SaferVPN really thinking about the value of their service and how they could make a greater change. So, together with the human rights crowdsourcing platform Movements.org, they established #UnblockTheWeb, an initiative to offer free VPN service to activists and dissidents who need it most.

Most recently the partnership provided much needed online anonymity and freedom to a coalition of online bloggers writing on behalf of cultural freedom and secularism in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, countless bloggers, atheists, and secular freethinkers have been the target of brutal attacks and murders by Islamic extremists. The need for such individuals to be able to speak out and express their views safely is absolutely essential.

“We realized we could offer much more than a premium service that allows expats to access their favorite streaming entertainment from back home — we could also serve the greater good with a service that has some really crucial benefits and value. Now, in the effort to further social justice and human rights, we see the very real impact of our technology.”

Want to join us in the fight for freedom of online expression? Get involved with the cause at Unblock The Web.

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Attention Readers: We’ve Moved Our Journalism To The Pulse

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

A large portion of our journalism that you’re used to seeing on our Collective Evolution platform has now moved over to The Pulse. We will be publishing most of our news articles there, while Collective Evolution focuses more on personal development.

You can follow The Pulse on Telegram, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  

We’ve done this for a number of reasons, mainly due to the struggles we’ve had with regards to extreme censorship at Collective Evolution. We hope you join us over at The Pulse in our quest to keep doing what we do!

Dive Deeper

Click below to watch a sneak peek of our brand new course!

Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

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Abductions & Car Vandalism – Startling Australian UFO Report Unclassified

Gautam Peddada

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Before you begin...

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

An uncovered Australian report performed by their Department of Defence. “Scientific Intelligence — General — Unidentified Flying Objects” is trending again. Those who have done extensive research on UFOs will find the Australian version of disclosure to be far more intellectually honest than the American version. Albeit it was conducted decades ago.

According to ex-US intelligence official Luis Elizondo, the Defense Department’s Inspector General is presently conducting three reviews. The inquiries vary from the Department of Defense’s handling of UFO claims to Elizondo’s alleged whistleblower retribution. The open IG cases are crucial to Australia’s report because they establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that the US Department of Defense is being dishonest and shady when it comes to the UFO subject. For decades, Australia has been a loyal friend of the United States. Within Australia’s boundaries, they share a military installation (Pine Gap). When a close defense ally’s intelligence agencies determined that the US was not being intellectually honest in its approach, perhaps it is reasonable to conclude that there is more to the tale than the 144 incidents studied since 2004 by the UAPTF.

The CIA became alarmed at the overloading of military communications during the mass sightings of 1952 and considered the possibility that the USSR may take advantage of such a situation.

Australian UFO study.

According to the summary, OSI, acting through the Robertson-Panel, encouraged the USAF to use Project Blue Book to publicly “debunk” UFOs. In a tragic twist of fate, when Australian authorities sought explanations from the US Air Force, the allegation was debunked. The authors of the study were depicted as conspiratorial and even crazy by the US Air Force. Ross Coulthart reported this, and it may be heard in a recent Project Unity interview. Courthart is an award-winning investigative journalist who is drawn to forbidden subjects. He also stated on the same podcast that a senior US Navy official identified as Nat Kobitz told him that the US had been in the midst of reverse-engineering numerous non-human craft. According to his obituary, Mr. Kobitz was a former Director of Research and Development at Naval Sea Systems Command.

Continue reading the entire article at The Pulse. 

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Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

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PGA Tour To End COVID Testing For Both Vaccinated & Non-Vaccinated Players

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The PGA Tour has announced that it will stop testing players every week, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not.

  • Reflect On:

    Are PCR tests appropriate to identify infectious people? Should people who are healthy and not sick be tested at all, anywhere?

Before you begin...

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

The picture you see above is of John Rahm, a professional golfer on the PGA tour being carted off the golf course after tournament officials told him he had COVID. He was healthy and had no symptoms, yet was forced to withdraw from the tournament. He was told in front of the camera’s, and a big scene was made out of the event. You would think something like that, especially when you are a big time sports figure, would be done behind closed doors with some privacy.

Earlier on in June a spokesperson for the PGA Tour said that more than 50 percent of players on the PGA tour have been vaccinated. Although it seems that the majority of players on the tour will be fully vaccinated judging by this statement, it does leave a fairly large minority who won’t be, and that’s something we’re seeing across the globe as COVID vaccine hesitancy remains high for multiple reasons.

We are pleased to announce, after consultation with PGA Tour medical advisors, that due to the high rate of vaccination among all constituents on the PGA Tour, as well as other positively trending factors across the country, testing for COVID-19 will no longer be required as a condition of competition beginning with the 3M Open. – PGA tour Senior VP Tyler Dennis

The tour recently announced that the testing of players every week will stop starting in July for both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. This was an unexpected announcement given the fact that, at least it seems in some countries, vaccinated individuals will enjoy previous rights and freedoms that everyone did before the pandemic. Travelling without need to quarantine and possibly in the future not having to be tested could be a few of those privileges. Others may include attending concerts, sporting events, or perhaps even keeping their job depending on whether or not their employer deems it to be mandatory, if that’s even legally possible. We will see what happens.

Luckily for professional golfers, regardless of their vaccination status they won’t have to worry about testing positive for COVID, especially if they’re not sick. This is the appropriate move by the PGA tour, who is represented by their players and it’s a move that the players themselves may have had a say in. It’s important because PCR tests are not designed nor are they appropriate for identifying infectious people. A number of scientists have been emphasizing this since the beginning of the pandemic. More recently, a letter to the editor published in the Journal of infection explain why more than half of al “positive” PCR tests are likely to have been people who are not infectious, otherwise known as “false positives.”

This is why the Swedish Public Health agency has a notice on their website explaining how and why polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are not useful for determining if someone is infected with COVID or if someone can transmit it to others, and it’s better to use someone who is actually showing symptoms as a judgement call of whether or not they could be infected or free from infection.

PCR tests using a high cycle threshold are extremely sensitive. An article published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that among positive PCR samples with a cycle count over 35, only 3 percent of the samples showed viral replication. This can be interpreted as, if someone tests positive via PCR when a Ct of 35 or higher is used, the probability that said person is actually infected is less than 3%, and the probability that said result is a false positive is 97 percent. This begs the question, why has Manitoba, Canada, for example, using cycle thresholds of up to 45 to identify “positive” people?

When it comes to golf, the fact that spread occurring in an outdoor setting is highly unlikely could have been a factor, but it’s also important to mention that asymptomatic spread within one’s own household is also considerably rare. It really makes you wonder what’s going on here, doesn’t it?

Dive Deeper

Click below to watch a sneak peek of our brand new course!

Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

Click here to check out a sneak peek and learn more.

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