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China's 'Great Firewall' Starts Blocking WhatsApp Messages, Censors Facebook's Only Working Product In The Country

19 July 2017, 5:42 pm EDT By Carl Velasco Tech Times
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China appears to have tightened its internet crackdown, and the latest victim is WhatsApp. Several users have experienced disruptions with the app recently, with speculation suggesting that it will be blocked in the country eventually.  ( Carl Court | Getty Images )

It appears WhatsApp users in China are experiencing technical difficulties. The app is the last piece of Facebook-owned software that still worked in the country, mostly known for its heavy-handed approach in giving people access to certain social media avenues.

Who Blocked WhatsApp? Well, China

Some users weren't able to send photos, videos, and texts with WhatsApp. Security analysts have now confirmed that it was China's own internet filters that blocked the app's functions, according to The New York Times.

"According to the analysis that we ran today on WhatsApp's infrastructure, it seems that the Great Firewall is imposing censorship that selectively targets WhatsApp functionalities," said Nadim Kobeissi, a Symbolic Software cryptographer.

WhatsApp becomes the latest in a list of digital services running up against the country's "Great Firewall," or its systemized filtering and control. A great number of stories have continued to surface over the past few months chronicling the country's censorship efforts. This includes forcing three formidable sites to halt streaming audio and video content, in addition to auditing certain sites.

Certain streaming sites have had to take videos down because of China's increasingly tightening control of internet, and the tools some people use to circumvent these restriction have also more frequently faced difficulties, as The New York Times reports.

China: The State Of Internet Freedom

Blocking WhatsApp comes as another setback for Facebook, which, beginning in 2014, aggressively sought to bring the social network back into the country. Mark Zuckerberg even learned Chinese to impress, but no such luck. Facebook remains blocked in the country, and it might possibly leave China altogether if the government decides to put a permanent block on the messaging service.

Together with China's aggressive crackdown of VPNs, leaving almost no workarounds for people to use mostly Western internet services and tools while in their home country, the government continues to show a desire to entirely take over internet freedom. Some worry that the excessive censorship might hamper the country's ability to access crucial information, such as scientific papers or other academic materials. Thus, there have been movements calling for a more granular approach to censorship, instead of blocking services entirely.

It remains unclear whether WhatsApp's disruption merely point to technical difficulties or portend to a more permanent block. In the past, partial blocks often lead to total bans, according to The New York Times.

WhatsApp's future in the country remains murky, however, seeing as how Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Gmail are all blocked in China.

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