WhatsApp Banned From China
Facebook’s WhatsApp is one of the most popular instant message clients available around the world today with over a billion users, and now the Chinese government has blocked the application. Earlier in the year, the Chinese authorities moved to block image sharing, voice calling (over VoIP) and WhatsApp stories via the WhatsApp service, but most users could still send and receive instant messages. However, this facility has now been stopped, meaning WhatsApp users are unable to use the service.
According to the New York Times, the reason for this could be because of the major Communist Party congress gathering later this month, where a new leader is selected for the next five years. The Chinese authorities could be stepping up surveillance in preparation. WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption to the message service last year, which makes it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to intercept and read messages being sent between users. It appears that the Chinese authorities have developed specialist software designed to block such encrypted message services. The move may push customers to use an alternative messaging application, such as WeChat, which is known to provide conversation data to the Chinese government. Currently, WeChat has close to one billion users, and the move to block WhatsApp could easily push this higher. Many Chinese are already using WeChat (and WhatsApp) in preference to email, and WhatsApp users are frustrated with the service now being blocked.
Facebook, WhatsApp’s owners, now only have one available application or service in the Chinese market. The Facebook service itself was banned back in 2009, Instagram has never been introduced, and the only Facebook application available is “Colorful Balloons,” which is similar to Facebook’s moments. WhatsApp is joining a long list of banned Internet websites and services in China, which includes almost all of Google and social network platforms including Pinterest and Periscope. However, whilst WhatsApp video calling is banned, China tolerates both Apple’s FaceTime and Microsoft’s Skype. Interestingly enough, when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 it agreed to open up its online and telecom services to external competition, but has the agreement to apply restrictions to media being sent and received. Given the importance of the Chinese market for world trade, the global business community has been reluctant to criticise China’s censorship and internet service blocking policies.