You are here: Home » International » News » Technology
Business Standard

WhatsApp down: China users report disruption amid censorship fears

Users in China could send texts over WhatsApp without the use of VPNs, but not images

Topics
Whatsapp

AP | PTI  |  Beijing 

Users of in China and security researchers have reported widespread service disruptions amid fears that the popular messaging service may be at least partially blocked by authorities in the world's most populous country.

users in China reported today on other social media platforms that the app was partly inaccessible unless virtual private network software was used to circumvent China's censorship apparatus, known colloquially as The Great Firewall.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook and offers end-to- end encryption, has a relatively small but loyal following among users seeking a greater degree of privacy from government snooping than afforded by popular domestic app WeChat, which is ubiquitous but closely monitored and filtered.

Questions over WhatsApp's status come at a politically fraught time in China. The government is in the midst of preparing for a sensitive party congress while Chinese censors this week revved up a sprawling effort to scrub all mention of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died Thursday in government custody.

A report this week by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab detailed how Chinese censors were able to intercept, in real time, images commemorating Liu in private one-on-one chats on WeChat, a feat that hinted at the government's image recognition capabilities

It appeared that pictures were also the focus of the move to censor Late today, users in China could send texts over WhatsApp without the use of VPNs, but not images.

Nadim Kobeissi, a cryptography researcher based in Paris who has been investigating the WhatsApp disruption, said he believed The Great Firewall was only blocking access to WhatsApp servers that route media between users, while leaving servers that handle text messages untouched. He said voice messages also appeared to be blocked.

But there was no evidence to suggest that Chinese authorities were decrypting WhatsApp messages, Kobeissi added.

A Chinese censorship researcher known by his pseudonym Charlie Smith said authorities appeared to be blocking non- text WhatsApp messages wholesale precisely because they have not been able to selectively block content on the platform like they have with WeChat, which is produced by Shenzhen- based internet giant Tencent and legally bound to cooperate with Chinese security agencies.

Because WhatsApp content is encrypted, "they have moved to brute censor all non-text content," Smith said in an email.

"It would not be surprising to find that everything on WhatsApp gets blocked, forcing users in China to use unencrypted, monitored and censored services like WeChat."


Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he had no information on the issue when asked by reporters today.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp is one of the world's most widely used messaging services, with over 1.2 billion users.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Dear Reader,


Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

First Published: Tue, July 18 2017. 22:15 IST
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
.