China continues its chain of internet censorship crackdowns, this time the target is Whatsapp. Today, Whatsapp users in China have been having problems using the app to share photos, videos or even text their peers.
“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, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a cryptography research start-up.
Apparently, as major leadership reshuffle in China approach, the Chinese government tightens the noose on the internet even harder. Visible unrest within the country’s leading Communist Party where change in key positions is expected as well as President Xi Jinping’s constant vigor to maintain his position in power.
“By blocking WhatsApp, the authorities have shut down one of the few remaining free and encrypted messaging apps but, more importantly, they have also limited the ability for Chinese to have private conversations with their peers,” [...] “While the internet freedom community continues to develop unique and innovative circumvention tools we are doing very little to fight the climate of fear that Xi Jinping has manufactured in China,” a Chinese censorship researcher known only by the pseudonym Charlie Smith, said in an e-mail.
A product of Facebook, Whatsapp is a giant free global messaging application that was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum. The widely popular app supports multiple platforms, including: Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Nokia and Windows Phone. Whatsapp users can text each other in private or in groups, share multimedia files, like: photos, audio clips and videos completely free of charge.
Whatsapp is currently the only foreign internet service that still works in China. However, like most online apps and services in China, Whatsapp could not escape China’s notorious Great Firewall, a highly advanced filtration system. Lately, China’s version of Whatsapp, an app called “WeChat” fell victim to the country’s flagrant series of internet censorship ever since the government’s implementation of a new cybersecurity law to remove any sensitive political material shared on the web. Telegram is another messaging app that was also blocked by Chinese authorities after it had grown popular among internet users.
Adding to possible speculations why the Chinese government is increasing internet censorship over messaging apps and social media platforms, is last week’s public defiance against the country’s attempts to eclipse the death of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel peace prize laureate. Xiaobo was known for his stance against the government’s dictatorship.
“Concerned that martyrdom around Liu may spur similar collective action, as well as being concerned about saving face, the knee jerk reaction of China’s authorities is to quash all public discussion of Liu, which in today’s world translates into censorship on social media,” Ronald Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, wrote in a blog post.
China’s clamp down on foreign businesses has resulted in sudden boom in native businesses. For example, the shutdown of Google’s operations in China has caused native search engine, Baidu to thrive exponentially. In addition, the ban of Twitter has led to remarkable rise in popularity for its equivalent in China, Weibo. Following the disrupt in Whatsapp, Facebook has not issued any statements yet.