Security experts have confirmed that China has blocked popular messaging platform WhatsApp in its region. Over the past few months, WhatsApp users in China have faced interruptions as they were barred from sending or receiving images and videos, but the current ban has been confirmed to apply to text messages as well.
According to the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), network measurement data suggested that Chinese internet service providers started blocking access to WhatsApp on September 23. Public reports on Twitter indicate that WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, became inaccessible for some people on September 19.
This move to censor the encrypted messenger has come ahead of next month's 19th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party. At the sensitive gathering, which takes place once every five years, the government would select leaders and determine policy priorities.
In mid-July, Chinese censors began blocking video chats and the sending of photographs and other files using WhatsApp, they also stopped many voice chats, as well. But most text messages on the app continued to go through normally.
Image source: sahrzad
But now it appears that WhatsApp has been broadly disrupted in China, even for text messages, Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research start-up, said on Monday. “This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” he said.
It has been observed that China regularly tightens its internet restrictions in the lead-up to major Communist Party meetings.
Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "Typically, in the run-up to Party Congresses, we've seen blocking, filtering, restrictions on the internet, and that's what we've been seeing in the last couple months."
According to Timothy Heath, senior international defense research analyst at the RAND Corporation, the Chinese government does not like that WhatsApp uses strong encryption.
"The government wants to monitor internet communications, and therefore it's trying to steer its people to use technology that can be accessed and monitored by the government," he told CNN.
Other Chinese messaging apps like WeChat however, have notified users of its policies to comply with government requests for information.
Cover image source: itunes
Information source: abp