FACEBOOK-OWNED WhatsApp has become the latest firm to become crippled by China's so-called 'Great Firewall'.
Users of the encrypted chat service have this week reported that they have been unable to send photos and videos via WhatsApp, and The New York Times reports that some users have complained that they can't send text messages to one another.
Badim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at startup Symbolic Software, told the NYT on Tuesday that: "According to the analysis that we ran today on WhatsApp's infrastructure, it seems that the Great Firewall is imposing censorship that selectively targets WhatsApp functionalities.
Speculation suggests that the block is related to due to the death of Chinese dissenter Liu Xiaobo, who recently passed away in prison. Earlier this week, there were reports claiming that messages commemorating him were being intercepted and deleted.
However, it's unclear whether the apparent ban is a prelude to a complete block of the Facebook-owned service. Previous partial blocks have sometimes led to full bans, but in some cases, they have eventually been removed by the government and service restored.
China has been tightening its grip on the internet in recent months, however, and recently has prohibited the use of sites streaming foreign television shows. The NYT notes that Communist Party recently scolded the Chinese internet company Tencent over a popular video game, calling it "too addictive."
What's more, a full ban on WhatsApp would aid Chinese native WeChat's business, which is already the more popular option in China.
Commenting on the government's latest move, a Chinese censorship researcher known only by the pseudonym Charlie Smith told AP: "By blocking WhatsApp, the authorities have shut down one of the few remaining free and encrypted messaging apps but, more importantly, they have also limited the ability for Chinese to have private conversations with their peers.
"While the internet freedom community continues to develop unique and innovative circumvention tools we are doing very little to fight the climate of fear that Xi Jinping has manufactured in China."
Earlier this month, reports claimed that the Chinese government would completely ban VPNs from early next year. However, new developments claim thatthe majority of users" will be able to continue using VPNs with only "unapproved" software facing the ban. µ
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