WhatsApp is blocked in China


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China's multifaceted messaging app: WeChat

Popular messaging app WhatsApp has been largely blocked in China.

According to the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), network measurement data suggests that Chinese internet service providers started blocking access to WhatsApp on September 23. Public reports on Twitter indicate that WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, became inaccessible for some people on September 19.

Over the last few months, there have been a number of WhatsApp disruptions in China. WhatsApp declined to comment on its status there.

The most recent move to censor the encrypted messenger comes ahead of next month’s 19th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party. At the Communist Party gathering, which takes place once every five years, the government will select leaders and determine policy priorities.

Historically, China has placed restrictions on the internet leading up to the Communist Party gathering, said Adam Segal, the Ira A. Lipman chair in emerging technologies and national security and director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Typically in the run up to Party Congresses, we’ve seen blocking, filtering, restrictions on the internet, and that’s what we’ve been seeing in the last couple months,” Segal said.

Related: WhatsApp is being targeted by China’s censors, experts say

However, it’s also part of a wider move toward tightening controls and restrictions under President Xi Jinping, Segal said. Although China has reinstated WhatsApp access in the past, it might not lift the block moving forward. The Chinese government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move to block WhatsApp further chills Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s longtime efforts to make Facebook services available in China.

China already blocks access to a number of internet companies, including Facebook (FB, Tech30), Instagram, Twitter (TWTR, Tech30), and Google (GOOG). Some people access these services through virtual private networks, or with tools that disguise internet traffic to circumvent censorship. But the Chinese government has been cracking down on VPNs this year.

According to Timothy Heath, senior international defense research analyst at the RAND Corporation, the Chinese government does not like that WhatsApp uses strong encryption.

“The government wants to monitor internet communications, and therefore it’s trying to steer its people to use technology that can be accessed and monitored by the government,” Heath told CNN Tech.

Earlier this month, WeChat, a popular chat service in China, notified users of its policies to comply with government requests for information.

CNNMoney (San Francisco) First published September 25, 2017: 8:14 PM ET


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