China Cracks Down on WhatsApp

When it comes to online freedom and privacy, China isn't doing that great. Case in point, the latest move made by the Chinese government - blocking WhatsApp, the world's most popular messaging app.

The news was reported by the NY Times who notes that the decision comes ahead of the scheduled Communist Party gathering from October.

This is a rather big blow to WhatsApp parent-company Facebook who has been struggling to push WhatsApp's presence in China, to reenter the market in the past few years, especially since this is such a large playing ground for the company, with not only a large population but also a high number of smartphone and Internet users.

Facebook has long since been blocked in mainland China, so WhatsApp was the company's last presence here. Not even Instagram, an image sharing tool, has managed to get the needed nod from the government.

WhatsApp's Chinese saga

The issues with WhatsApp actually started a few months back, as the app has only been available for text messages. Any voice chats, file and photo transfers were blocked back in July. The initial restrictions lasted for a little while and were lifted a few weeks later. This sparked the hope that the Chinese government had a change of heart and would allow WhatsApp users to enjoy the app.

It seems, however, that they were only biding their time before they found a way to block the app. By offering end-to-end encryption and blocking the government from seeing what everyone was writing, WhatsApp was annoying.

Some say, however, that this isn't the modus operandi of the Chinese government, a government that's been known to censor most of the western-born social media tools, including Twitter and YouTube. Instead, Chinese Internet users are forced to use apps that are given the green light by the government, such as WeChat, an app that pretty much shares every little message sent between users with the authorities.

The discovery of the disruption comes from Symbolic Software's Nadim Kobeissi. He said that it's quite likely the Chinese government developed a way to interfere with the encrypted texts. This ability is new, and something that it had not been able to do before.

Here's to hoping China will eventually join the free Internet or that users will be allowed to have their privacy and their cyber secrets protected from government snooping. Recently, a Chinese region pushed all smartphone users to install a monitoring app, allowing for even more power over users. The country has also  had a crackdown on VPN tools, banning usage of such software.