China just blocked WhatsApp landing another blow to the open internet


blocked WhatsApp, as it steps up surveillance measures ahead of the 19th Communist Party Congress. This comes as a huge blow to millions of WhatsApp users and most importantly to Mark Zuckerberg since WhatsApp was the last service from Facebook to function on the Chinese mainland.

The blocking of WhatsApp didn’t happen in just one day, observers point out. Back in mid-July, the messaging service’s video calling and files and image sharing services were blocked.

In fact, 2017 has witnessed
several major steps from the Chinese regulators towards censorship
. Earlier this year, Chinese internet authorities made the use of private VPN services illegal, as well as requiring users to get their identity verified for commenting online.

“The Chinese authorities have a history of mostly, but not entirely, blocking internet services, as well as slowing them down so much that they become useless”,
writes Keith Bradsher
, Shanghai bureau chief of The New York Times. The censorship has prompted many Chinese citizens to use communication services that function smoothly, over security and privacy, such as WeChat. Recently, WeChat sent a notice to users reminding them that it complied with official requests for information, confirming its compliance with authorities.

China’s censorship of WhatsApp may have bigger ramifications as WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption, that effectively protects your text, voice and video conversations passing through servers.

“The blocking of WhatsApp text messages suggests that China’s censors may have developed specialized software to interfere with such messages, which rely on an encryption technology that is used by few services other than WhatsApp,” said Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research start-up,
to The New York Times.

According to
The Verge
, “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”.

Earlier this year, the Chinese Parliament approved
China’s new Cyber Security law
, which has created a lot of confusion amongst tech companies, especially the ones from the west. According to the new law, tech companies are now to store their data within the borders of China and would impose security checks on companies in sectors like finance and communications. Additionally, individual users would have to register their real names to use messaging services.

The latest censorship of WhatsApp has a lot to do with the 19th Communist Party Congress expected to start on October 18, held every five years which choose party’s leadership. The Party Congress is expected to be a major landmark in President Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate power. However, uncertainty remains over who will join him on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the party’s highest-ranking group.

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