CHINA HAS sent WhatsApp to the naughty step, as it becomes the latest western service to be blocked by the so-called 'Great Firewall'that censors access to thousands of sites in the country.
Intermittent disruption has started over the last few days, with a particular focus seemingly put on blocking multimedia files.
With a major conference of the ruling Communist Party coming up next month, analysts believe the Firewall will be tightened in the coming days, but this is the first time the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger service has been caught up in the crosshairs.
Although eclipsed in China by the Tencent (and therefore Chinese) owned WeChat, in the largely English speaking Hong Kong province, WhatsApp is hugely popular, though under the "One Country Two Systems" rules, it is unlikely that it will be blocked there.
It does, however, represent a major blow for Mark Zuckerberg's hopes of getting a presence back in the country, which is currently also blocking access to Facebook and Instagram, thus preventing access to a huge market for the social network.
What's particularly interesting is the way in which it has been blocked. Although sometimes completely unavailable, at other times, it specifically blocks people in China from sending multimedia images to people outside China. That shows that the firewall is becoming more sophisticated and granular.
It's not the first time that WhatsApp has been disrupted in China. As recently as July, video chats and photographs were blocked but were later reinstated.
As ever, many Chinese people are getting round the restrictions by using a VPN service to disguise their IP address, and therefore giving them unfettered access to Western delights.
But with China putting a ban on VPNs earlier this year, all of this access is illegal and the state is already flexing its muscles, making examples of citizens selling VPN access since the new rules took effect. µ
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