Brazil Bans WhatsApp For 48 Hours, Millions Flee To Other Messenger Services

WhatsApp is a hugely popular service in Brazil and can lay claim to about 100 million users in the country. However, as of midnight on Thursday, the government has imposed a blockade that will last for two days. Zuckerberg took to his Facebook page to express his concern that a judge would take such heavy-handed measures and actually deprive the entire country of the cellphone chat and voice service for 48 hours.

Facebook purchased WhatsApp last year for a tidy sum of $22 billion. In Brazil, it is so embedded in the culture that reportedly instead of asking someone for their number, they are asked for their WhatsApp. The service is also used by newspapers, advertisers, and even politicians as a way to communicate with local people. In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg called to the people, urging Brazilians to protest the ban. Zuckerberg also stated that the company is working hard to reverse the ban.

“This is a sad day for Brazil. I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp. We hope the Brazilian courts quickly reverse course. If you’re Brazilian, please make your voice heard and help your government reflect the will of its people.”

Judge Sandra Marques in Sao Bernardo do Campo in Sao Paulo informed phone companies to block the service after prosecutors stated that WhatsApp had failed to comply with an ongoing criminal investigation by providing them with the information requested. A judicial order for compliance was sent to the company on July 23 and again on August 7. However, after no response was received, a fine for noncompliance was issued and the ban became a means of retaliation.

Brazilian phone companies have long sought and been denied some restriction on the WhatsApp communication service, claiming that the free voice-over-internet (VOIP) undermines their own calling services.

The criminal court case that desired WhatsApp compliance is taking place in Sao Paulo State Justice Tribunal in São Bernardo do Campo and, according to Reuters, involves a drug trafficker believed to be linked to one of the country’s biggest and most dangerous criminal gangs. WhatsApp was allegedly a means of communication that the trafficker used in committing the crime. Details of the case remain a secret, though, and the local paper that divulged this much information has not named its source.

The decision that WhatsApp has made has been praised by privacy advocates but for various government agencies that could use the popular messaging service to gather intelligence on criminal and terrorist threats the lack of cooperation is troubling.

Immediately after the ban was implemented, Brazilians were forced to download other messaging services, and the Washington Post wrote that Telegram Messenger gained 1.5 million new users. Several other messenger services are actively trying to gain those who used the WhatsApp service and many even tweeted that they are still active. Many companies have also reported spikes in users.

In November of 2014, WhatsApp began using an encryption system for all messages sent by its users that is said to be so advanced that neither hackers nor governments are able to access them.

WhatsApp founder and CEO Jan Koum also posted to Facebook to express his feelings regarding the ban imposed by Brazil.

“We are disappointed in the short-sighted decision to cut off access to WhatsApp, a communication tool that so many Brazilians have come to depend on, and sad to see Brazil isolate itself from the rest of the world.”

[Image via Twin Design/Shutterstock]