January 1, 2018 (STL.News) In another move to censor what Chinese citizens can view and write on social media, China has taken a bold step towards limiting outside communication by completely blocking WhatsApp, a free international texting platform, to all users within China. Over the past few months, WhatsApp has experienced brief disruptions to service in China, with users unable to send video chats or photos. Now, messages, too, are completely blocked, according to Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research firm that also monitors digital censorship in China. She reported her findings recently to The Verge.
“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,” said Kobeissi.
Kobeissi also found that China may have recently upgraded its firewall to detet and block NoiseSocket protocol that WhatsApp uses to send texts, in addition to already blocking the HTTP that WhatsApp uses to send photos and videos. “I think it took time for the Chinese firewall to adapt to this new protocol so that it could also target text messages.” The app disruptions officially began last September.
This move is a passive aggressive blow to Facebook, which has been banned in China since 2009 and owns WhatsApp today. With the blocking of WhatsApp, Facebook’s last chance at the Chinese market is the Colorful Balloons app that it stealthily released in their app stores last August.
The heightened censorship coincides with the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist party. WhatsApp offered end-to-end encryption, which keeps users’ messages private, preventing the government from spying on the content within. Chinese WeChat provides all users’ personal data to the Chinese government, with an estimated 964 million active users today.