China is messing with WhatsApp

Baidu's Newest Gadget Translates Speech In Near Real-Time

Baidu's Newest Gadget Translates Speech In Near Real-Time

The disabling in mainland China of the Facebook-owned app is a setback for the social media giant, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been pushing to re-enter the Chinese market, and has been studying the Chinese language intensively.

Back in June, the Chinese government had reportedly set up filters and firewall to block WhatsApp's key features like image and video sharing to discourage citizens from indulging in badmouthing the government decision to not to provide proper medical care to Liu Xiaobo, a political prisoner due to his pro-democracy views.

Facebook declined to comment, following past practice when asked about WhatsApp's difficulties in China.

Now, Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a watchdog focusing on online censorship in China, reports that the use of text messages has also been blocked, completely restricting the use of the app in the country. This can be viewed as part of the broader internet censorship crackdown being implemented by the Chinese government. Media reports said users in China reported increased disruptions in recent days to the Facebook-owned service, which previously malfunctioned in the country over the summer.

Users could still send text communications and the restrictions were lifted after several weeks. But he said that some WhatsApp users might still manage to communicate.

The blocking of WhatsApp seems to dovetail with the onset of China's 19th Communist Party Congress, which will take place in Beijing starting from October 18 this year. Rumors of a power reshuffle in the upper echelons of the party have been circulating for a while now. Current President Xi Jinping is expected to maintain his spot, but it's still unclear who will accompany him on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the Communist party's highest-ranking group.

The blocking of WhatsApp text messages suggests that China's censors may have developed specialised software to interfere with such messages, which rely on an encryption technology that is used by few services other than WhatsApp, he said.

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