Tech News : Millions Defy WhatsApp Bans

In a recent BBC World Service interview, Head of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, claimed that tens of millions of people in countries where WhatsApp has been banned continue to use it.

Where Is WhatsApp Banned And Why? 

WhatsApp is banned Iran and North Korea, has been blocked at times in Syria, Senegal, and Guinea, and recently China banned iPhone users from downloading the app. Also, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates restrict certain features of the app.

WhatsApp faces bans and restrictions in these countries mainly due to concerns regarding its end-to-end encryption, which prevents governments from monitoring or intercepting messages sent through the platform. The encryption feature undermines authorities’ abilities to surveil communications for security purposes, potentially allowing for the spread of dissent or undesirable information. Also, WhatsApp’s widespread popularity makes it a powerful tool for activities such as organising protests or disseminating information, posing challenges to governments seeking to control the flow of information and maintain societal order. Consequently, countries with authoritarian regimes or strict censorship laws are opting to ban or restrict WhatsApp to maintain control over communication channels and uphold state authority.

Evidence of Tens of Millions Still Using It 

Mr Cathcart says the fact that WhatsApp can see the registered phone numbers of users, plus anecdotal reports of people using WhatsApp, have enabled WhatsApp to: “look at some of the countries where we’re seeing blocking and still see tens of millions of people connecting to WhatsApp”.  

Apple 

In the interview, Mr Cathcart highlighted how China ordered Apple to block Chinese iPhone users from downloading WhatsApp from the AppStore in April was a “choice Apple has made” but stressed that Android users there can still download it without going through official shops.

China has also banned another end-to-end encrypted app, Telegram, and has asked Apple to remove microblogging app Threads from its app store due to political content that mentions the Chinese president.

VPNs 

Mr Cathcart also pointed the role that virtual private networks (VPNs) and WhatsApp’s proxy service have had in keeping WhatsApp accessible.

Free Internet Battle 

Mr Cathcart also highlighted how the UK government’s battle over several years to ban end-to-end encryption in apps like WhatsApp to allow police to read criminals’ messages, and the US forcing TikTok to be sold or banned (for national security reasons) are indicators of the growing battle for a free Internet.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

For businesses, the ongoing saga surrounding end-to-end encrypted apps like WhatsApp has implications for operations, security, and ethics. As highlighted by Will Cathcart, the widespread use of WhatsApp in countries with authoritarian regimes shows its critical role as a secure communication platform for individuals facing oppressive surveillance and censorship. In such environments, where privacy and freedom of expression are under constant threat, encrypted apps serve as a lifeline for both personal and professional interactions.

However, the bans and restrictions imposed by these governments highlight the tension between security and freedom in the digital age. By targeting encrypted platforms, governments essentially seek to exert control over information flow and suppress dissent, often at the expense of individual liberties and privacy rights. For businesses operating in (or collaborating with partners in) such regions, these restrictions pose significant challenges, potentially jeopardising the confidentiality of sensitive communications and data.

Also, the battle over end-to-end encryption extends beyond geopolitical borders, shaping the broader landscape of internet freedom and digital rights. Efforts by governments like the UK’s to undermine encryption in the name of law enforcement raise serious questions about the balance between security measures and civil liberties. Any compromise to encryption standards not only undermines the privacy and security of users but also sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the integrity of the digital ecosystem.

Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History :

November 2, 1936 : BBC Basics

“Gentlemen, you have now invented the biggest time-waster of all time. Use it well.”, said Isaac Shoenberg, head of the EMI research team that developed the first fully electronic television system to be used in regular broadcasting.

On the second of November 1936, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) transmitted the first-ever scheduled television programmes. They were in “High Definition” (at the time) and started airing at 3pm and finishing at 4pm. Then again with more content at 9pm until 10pm.

Programming featured brief impromptu performances by musicians. The duration was restricted because early viewers (referred to as “lookers in”) reported eye strain from watching the small screens of the time.

The BBC (namely the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation, established in 1922), is unusual in that they don’t broadcast adverts on their (domestic) channels because it’s primarily funded by the TV licence fee paid by UK households. This means that it remains independent of commercial interests (as far as we know) and they’re unbiased (supposedly) and a beacon of free-world hope, recognised for its independent reporting throughout the world. In fact, although the primary audience speaks English, the BBC broadcasts in dozens of languages worldwide, from major ones like Arabic, Chinese, and Russian to regional languages like Hausa, Kyrgyz, and Tok Pisin.

In the 1980s, the BBC was involved in a project to promote computer literacy. This led to the creation of the BBC Micro, a series of microcomputers co-developed with Acorn Computers. It was widely used in schools across the UK and was part of a wave of pioneering home-computers originating at the time that kicked-off the careers of many computer programmers and entire industries related to home-computing. Later on in 2015, in a bid to help foster a new generation of computer users, the BBC, in partnership with other organisations, released the Micro Bit, a tiny programmable computer for kids.

As an institution you can either Love it or hate it, nevertheless there’s no denying that the BBC in no small part helped shape the current IT landscape in the UK via an entire generation of people that started their IT career from those early BBC computers and who watched inspiring BBC programmes such as “Tomorrow’s World”.