For the last few days, WhatsApp has been almost entirely inaccessible for most in China, leading to speculation that this might finally be the end for the app here.
Over the past few months, WhatsApp users in China have frequently complained about being unable to log into their account or send messages as China’s Net Nanny appeared to be regularly fiddling around with the social messaging app that counts more than a billion users worldwide — but few in mainland China.
Then, on Monday, the New York Times published an article declaring that WhatsApp had been blocked as part of a drive to escalate online censorship in the lead-up to next month’s big party congress. The Times spoke with Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research firm that also monitors digital censorship in China, who said that China was stepping up its censorship of the app.
“Essentially, it seems that what we initially monitored as censorship of WhatsApp’s photo, video and voice note sharing capabilities in July has now evolved to what appears to be consistent text messaging blocking and throttling across China,” Kobeissi told The Verge.
Of course, WhatsApp happens to be owned by Facebook, which has been blocked in mainland China since 2009. WhatsApp was the Silicon Valley’s last entity that remained unblocked in the Middle Kingdom (well, if you don’t count Colorful Balloons), with Instagram also falling behind the Great Firewall. Its blocking would be yet another blow for Mark Zuckerberg, who may have pretended to like Xi Jinping’s book for nothing.
China’s censorship of foreign social media apps has been a huge help to the success of domestic apps like WeChat, which Beijing ultimately holds control over. Recently, WeChat admitted that — surprise, surprise — it shares users’ personal data with the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, as we draw nearer and nearer to the 19th Party Congress, set to open on October 18th, VPNs are becoming more and more finicky.
In #China Whatsapp mostly not working again without a VPN and some VPNs not working. Recent censorship escalates as Oct Congress approaches.
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) September 25, 2017
WhatsApp blocked in China – after interrupted access in recent days, completely inaccessible all day today. Blame the #19thPartyCongress?
— Ananth Krishnan (@ananthkrishnan) September 25, 2017
Remember when Mark Zuckerberg wanted Xi Jinping to suggest a name for his new baby and then Xi cut off WhatsApp from China? Good times.
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) September 25, 2017
Perhaps everything will go back to normal in November. Perhaps not.
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