A pair of Toronto companies specializing in online apps are becoming increasing popular in Turkey after that country’s government banned people from using Twitter last week.
Tunnelbear and Psiphon allow users to change their Virtual Private Network, or VPN, so it looks like people in Turkey are logging into the Internet from somewhere else in the world.
“Over 300,000 people joined us in just over 48 hours, so it was very intense working around the clock, making sure our network stayed up under this huge capacity,” said Tunnelbear co-founder Ryan Dochuk.
A court ruling out Wednesday in Turkey calls on the government to unblock Twitter, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Turkey’s Prime Minister has defended blocking the social media site, telling huge rallies of thousands of people that Twitter is used to spread lies.
The censorship comes as municipal elections are only a few days away.
Tunnelbear has allowed the service to be used for free in Turkey but users elsewhere have to pay if they are frequent downloaders.
Dochuk said he’s even heard directly from protesters in Turkey who are using his app.
“You have the capability to intervene,” he said. “It’s a very emotional experience and you feel overly compelled to help.”
Toronto-based Psiphon is also free for users worldwide but international broadcasters and human rights groups pay to distribute versions.
Both Psiphon and Tunnelbear are becoming popular not just in Turkey, but anywhere in the world where there’s online censorship.
“Iran, Turkey, China, it's also Syria,” said Karl Kathuria with Psiphon. “Trying to limit bad publicity, trying to really limit influence the content.”
Also under pressure as of late from anti-government protesters, the Venezuelan government decided to block Tunnelbear. The company was able to create an alternative site to accommodate users.
A Turkish-Canadian said she can see one big positive out of the struggles of those back home.
“People are standing up for their rights and liberties and that makes me proud, that is encouraging,” she said.