China Blocks WhatsApp In Latest Censorship Bid

Authorities in China moved Tuesday to block WhatsApp, the popular smartphone messaging service with over 1 billion users, in yet another clampdown on the country’s internet access.

The censorship bid to silence the application comes on the heels of a new cybersecurity law that went into effect last month, according to the New York Times.

While the initial blocking of WhatsApp and other foreign messaging services began to increase in intensity in July, the latest move includes the greatest service disruptions to date, with millions of users unable to send pictures, videos, or text messages to one another. Similarly, the international social media behemoth Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has been banned from the country since 2009, reports CNN.

“According to the analysis that we ran today on WhatsApp’s infrastructure, it seems the Great Firewall is imposing censorship that selectively targets WhatsApp functionalities,” one cryptographer told the New York Times.

China’s so-called “great firewall,” the expansive censorship apparatus authorities designed to rein in free expression and political dissidence in the country, has been used to curb messaging and social media platforms before. Alongside Facebook, the popular social media service Twitter was also banned from the country in 2009.

Similarly, YouTube, the New York Times, and various other popular western media outlets, civil rights groups, and companies have been banned from the country’s internet.

This isn’t the first time China has taken aim at WhatsApp. In July, the service was temporarily distorted by Chinese Authorities, according to Techcrunch, but was made available again a few days later. It’s currently unclear whether the latest crackdown on the messaging service is another temporary disruption or here to stay.

WhatsApp is renown not just for its massive user base, which spans the globe, but also for its particularly secure encryption services. Around the world, journalists, political dissidents, and citizens who hope to avoid the prying eyes of government censors often rely on the service to discretely relay information to one another. In 2016, WhatsApp implemented full end-to-end encryption, according to Bloomberg, a particular type of encryption that ensures only the sender and recipient of a message can view its contents.

The latest censorship bid comes only one month before China’s 19th Communist Party Congress, where leaders will meet to discuss and plan for the future of the nation’s ruling political party. It is widely expected that current Chinese President, Xi Jinping, will be reconfirmed as the head of state at the Congress.

[Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

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