‘Great Firewall’ Of China Blocks WhatsApp Amid Growing Online Censorship Problem


China has blocked WhatsApp entirely. The app, which Facebook owns, has experienced a series of temporary disruptions, with users unable to send photos and videos for a certain period.

Now, even text messages are disallowed. It's the latest move by Beijing ahead of a big Communist event scheduled next month.

WhatsApp Faces Broad Disruption In China

Disabling WhatsApp in mainland China is yet another setback for Facebook, which has been trying all its might to enter the Chinese market, but has continuously failed. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been studying the native language, even, but to no avail. WhatsApp was the last Facebook-owned service available to China. Facebook, by contrast, hasn't been available since 2009, as well as Instagram, which it also owns.

Around the middle of July, China started blocking certain features of the WhatsApp, including video calls, photo-sharing, and even voice chats, but the ability to send texts remained. Restrictions on video, audio, and photos were lifted after a few weeks, but only temporarily.

Now, WhatsApp has been totally disrupted, with people unable to send texts. Nadim Kobeissi, a Symbolic Software applied cryptographer, confirmed the total censorship on Monday, Sept. 25, and began noticing app disruptions as early as last Wednesday, Sept. 20. It's possible Chinese censors might have developed a program that can interfere with WhatsApp texts.

"I think it took time for the Chinese firewall to adapt to this new protocol so that it could also target text messages," he said, speculating that Chinese censors might have planned to disable texts messages from the get-go.

Will Facebook Ever Penetrate China?

Facebook's remaining presence in China is a so-called Colorful Balloons app, which it somehow managed to release last month without any problems. Colorful Balloons mimics Facebook's Moments app, which lets users share photos to family and friends. But instead of Facebook, the app works with WeChat, China's largest social network.

As mentioned, the increased censorship comes as 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party gets closer. The Verge speculates that WhatsApp might have been targeted because unlike other messaging apps, it offers end-to-end encryption, allowing users to send messages in private. WeChat, by contrast, gives personal data to Chinese authorities.

WhatsApp and its parent company have yet to comment, but this, again, shows China isn't softening its strict regulations anytime soon. But there's a silver lining in all this: at least Zuckerberg knows how to speak a little Mandarin now.

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