The Facebook owned WhatsApp is the most popular instant messaging and video calling platform around the globe. However there are some countries and regions that see a complete blackout on WhatsApp services. In the world where countries like Saudi Arabia have been seen lifting ban from video calling platforms like WhatsApp, Vibre and Skype, China has completely shut down WhatsApp services in the country.
Over the past few months, WhatsApp has experienced brief disruptions to service beginning last Wednesday, with users unable to send video chats or photos. Now, even text messages are completely blocked.
Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at a Paris-based research firm Symbolic Software, told the media, “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.”
Kobeissi found that China may have recently upgraded its firewall to detect and block the NoiseSocket protocol that WhatsApp uses to send texts, in addition to already blocking the HTTPS/TLS that WhatsApp uses to send photos and videos. He said, “I think it took time for the Chinese firewall to adapt to this new protocol so that it could also target text messages.”
No Facebook and WhatsApp in China
The new move is a serious blow to Facebook, which has been banned in China since 2009 and owns WhatsApp as well. With the blocking of WhatsApp, Facebook’s only remaining stake in China is the Colorful Balloons app that it stealthily released last month.
The app appears to mimic the look and feel of Facebook’s Moments app, which allows users to share photos with friends and family members. Rather than interfacing with Facebook, the app works with the country’s biggest social network, WeChat. Facebook released the app through a local company called Youge Internet Technology, without any hint of branding from the social media giant, and appears to have taken efforts to ensure that it doesn’t spread widely.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been working to find a way to get the social network reintroduced into the country, meeting with governmental officials and reportedly working on software for the country that helps suppress posts from appearing in a specific geographic area.
Ultimate Benefit to WeChat
The heightened censorship coincides with the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. WhatsApp may have been a target because the app offers end-to-end encryption, which keeps users’ messages private.
In contrast, other domestic Chinese apps like WeChat provide all users’ personal data to the Chinese government. WeChat, which already has 963 million active users, stands to benefit from one of its last foreign competitors being pushed out of the market.