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Italy’s bringing free Wi-fi to the masses, China’s getting serious about blocking VPNs, the US eases restrictions on carry-on electronics with one hand, then increases them with the other, and Google’s just made automatic file backup super-simple.
I don’t even know how we got to August already, but I guess that means it’s time for Travel Tech News again!
Free Wi-fi Rolled Out Nationwide in Italy
If you’re planning a trip to Italy, it just got easier to stay connected while you’re there, thanks to a government initiative to roll out free Wi-fi hotspots around the country. While buying a local SIM isn’t expensive, it’s not always particularly straightforward either, so this can only be a good thing.
With the new ‘Wifi Italia’ app, visitors and locals can add their details once, then connect to any hotspot on the system without having to enter additional information.
At the moment, the network is available in tourist hotspots like Milan, Rome, and Tuscany, plus Bari, Emilia Romagna, and Trento, but the government expects to make 28,000 hotspots available on the system over time.
VPNs Disappear from App Store in China, Set to Be Blocked Entirely Next Year
China’s crackdown on VPNs continues, with two unwelcome announcements arriving one after the other. First up, the country’s government told state-run Internet providers they had until Feb 1 next year to block individual’s access to virtual private networks. Many people in China use these services to get around the country’s strict Internet censorship, which blocks everything from Facebook to the New York Times from being accessed inside the country.
Presumably as part of the same crackdown, all major VPN apps disappeared from the Chinese iOS App Store late last month. Apple says it had no choice in the matter, as VPN services now require government approval to operate in the country. Since such approval isn’t exactly forthcoming, the services are operating illegally — and as such, they were removed.
Whether you believe Apple should have made a stand against Internet censorship in this case or not, the end result is the same: it’s just become even more difficult to use a VPN in China, and will only get harder in the coming months.
For now, if you’ve already got a VPN service installed on your phone or laptop before arriving in the country, and you know it’s supposed to function properly there (many don’t), it should still work… but probably not for much longer.
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There’s Going to be More — And Less — Security to Deal With For US Travelers
It feels like I’m writing about the security of travelers’ electronics at US airports all the time these days. Things are changing regularly, and this month is no exception.
In positive news, the ‘cabin electronics ban’ from certain Middle Eastern and African airports has now officially ended. With the adoption of new security checks in those airports, passengers can take their laptops and other large electronics into the cabin on US-bound flights again, instead of having to check them into the hold. That’s a good thing, since laptops and airplane holds really don’t play well together.
On the flip side, any electronics larger than a smartphone now need to be screened separately at US airports. If you’ve got a Kindle, tablet, camera or anything else bigger than a phone, it will need to come out of your bag, and go through the X-ray machine in a plastic bin, with nothing above or below it. The measures are already in place at several airports, and will roll out nationwide in the coming weeks.
Given the previous lack of guidance on exactly what needed to come out of cabin bags at security checkpoints, I’m actually not all that upset about this. Just last week, my bag was pulled aside at a UK airport for extra screening, because my Kindle was inside it. “Was I supposed to remove that?”, I asked. “We don’t ask you to, but it’ll often show up on the scanners, so you probably should” came the reply. Alrighty then.
Google ‘Backup and Sync’ Now Available
After announcing — and then delaying — the release of its Backup and Sync tool in June, Google made it available for download last month. If you’re already a user of the company’s Drive or Photo tools, you’ll already be somewhat familiar with how it works.
In essence, this new tool combines the backup functions of both the above tools, letting you automatically save almost any file from your Windows or Mac computer into the Google cloud. The app defaults to saving standard folders like ‘Pictures’ and ‘Documents’, but you can add others. Once files have been uploaded, they’re then synced with your other computers (thankfully, you can choose which folders you want to sync), and can be accessed from your phone or tablet as well.
Users already get 15GB of storage space for free, and it’s only a couple of bucks a month to upgrade that to 100GB. While we’d still recommend Crashplan for anyone who’s serious about backing up their entire computer (not least of all because it includes unlimited storage), this new tool is a good free or cheap way of making sure your most important files are saved somewhere else without needing to think about it.
When the worst happens, it could easily be the difference between a minor inconvenience, and a ruined trip.