WhatsApp’s entire suite of services, including its widely used text messages, has been blocked by the Chinese government.
The country’s authorities have previously imposed restrictions on access to its voice and video chat services, and in July prevented users from sending images via WhatsApp. The messaging app is owned by Facebook, which together with its Instagram app has been banned in China since 2009.
Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, suggests this wider ban on all of WhatsApp’s services indicates that the Chinese censors have created bespoke software that specifically targets the encryption technology used by WhatsApp, as very few other messaging apps use the same encryption. “This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Kobeissi was quoted as saying.
Symbolic Software monitors China’s digital censorship programme, and the country’s government is tightening up this regimen ahead of mid-October’s Communist Party congress. The last congress, held in 2012, saw current President Xi Jinping ascend to power.
In January, China outlawed all VPNs that did not have the approval of state regulators. In July, local VPN providers were targeted by China’s government for closure, while new regulations allowed for the shutdown of any services enabling access to foreign sites from behind China’s “Great Firewall”. Overseas firms have largely agreed to the restrictions, with Apple pulling several VPN applications from the Chinese App Store.
Recently, three Chinese firms – Baidu, Tencent and Weibo - also received fines from the Cyberspace Administration of China for the perceived inadequacy of content censorship on their platforms.