Pic: AP.

A new study has revealed that Virtual Private Network (VPN) services, aka proxy servers, are doing a roaring trade in Asia. According to globalwebindex, Asian countries account for four of the top five countries with the most people using VPNs.

A VPN allows users to hide online activity from prying eyes and also access services and websites that are blocked or unavailable in their country. For example, a VPN can allow someone in China to access Facebook and Netflix, something they normally wouldn’t be able to do.

According to the globalwebindex study, India has the most VPN users in the world, followed by Vietnam, Thailand and China.

TechInAsia’s Saiyai Sakawee speculates:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although the list of banned websites in India might not be as long as China’s, the majority of Indians who live in cities can speak English, so perhaps they want access to western news and entertainment websites. As for China, the censorship tactics are among the most advanced in the world.

Vietnam is also notorious for online censorship and regularly jails bloggers for criticising government. In Thailand, many netizens and journalists have fallen foul of the countries lese majeste law, which bans criticism of the royal family. Both countries have sizeable expat populations who use VPN services to watch streamed television from their home countries and use services like Netflix and Hulu.

The globalwebindex study also revealed that 19 percent of VPN users do so to prevent government snooping, not surprising amid the revelations of spying by the NSA in recent months.

Most VPN services cost between US$5-10 per month for unlimited access and can protect all devices on a home network. For occasional users who don’t want to stream video, pay-per-gigabyte services probably make more sense. About $10 can purchase 50GB which should cover months of light browsing.