China has blocked the popular instant messaging app Whatsapp. New York Times reported after security experts confirmed the news. Since July, the Chinese government blocked the exchange of photos and videos over the app. And now it has banned even the text messages, blocking a large usage of the Whatsapp.
Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software and also who monitors digital censorship in China told the Verge that “Essentially, it seems that what we initially monitored as censorship of WhatsApp’s photo, video and voice note sharing capabilities in July has now evolved to what appears to be consistent text messaging blocking and throttling across China.”
Reportedly the service has been completely blocked and is accessible only via VPNs (virtual private networks) which can circumvent China’s internet firewall. But, it is mandatory to have a license issued by the government for all the VPN providers. In order to block the Whatsapp text messages which use Noise Socket Protocol, China has upgraded its firewall.
The reason for China’s action of blocking Whatsapp can be due to the next month’s 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. This sensitive meeting takes place every five years, bringing together approximately 2,200 Party delegates from across the country. China may have tightened the censorship because the instant messaging app Whatsapp offers the users an end-to-end encryption, preventing the third parties to snoop into their chat conversations. With the blocking of exchanging text messages over Whatsapp, the people will choose its alternative apps such as WeChat, allowing the Chinese government to look into the personal data of its citizens.
This isn’t the first time that China is blocking an app from being used by its citizens. Around 171 most popular apps and websites were blocked in mainland China. The list of apps that the government banned in its history includes Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Twitter including Wikipedia. Except for Colorful balloons app, all the other Facebook’s(since 2009) apps were blocked in China. It is still unclear if the ban is permanent or temporary. It could disrupt the company’s business if the blocking is permanent. Whatsapp has refused to comment on this censorship.