Those of you who use WhatsApp, a social messaging service from Facebook, to connect with friends outside China, better tell them to migrate to WeChat.
WhatsApp apparently is the latest casualty in the latest blocking salvo in China following reports of disrupted service since Tuesday (July 18). beijingkids tried to send messages on WhatsApp and these were our observations:
- Messages to contacts in China can still be sent without the use of a VPN service.
- Videos and photos take long to send to contacts in China (previously it’s instantaneous or dependent on how large the file is; but in our trial, a 1.5MB photo of a cover of a Chinese kids’ book took more than 12 hours to send).
- Messages, videos, and photos seem not to send at all to contacts outside China.
There has been a lot of discussion in various expat-focused WeChat groups, with some users commenting that the service had become intermittent and others noting that the block seemed to not be “applied evenly” among users.
WhatsApp utilizes end-to-end encryption, offering more privacy in communications. The New York Times quoted a cryptographer from a start-up as saying the censorship “seems to selectively target WhatsApp functionalities.”
Foreign news websites say this latest censorship crackdown is related to an upcoming politically sensitive event and to the recent death of a dissident. Just last week, domestic video streaming platforms like AcFun and Bilibili also faced the same fate as local authorities banned the sites’ foreign collection, mostly from the US, the UK, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. Early this year, Pinterest got pinned down by the Great Firewall too.
Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, is blocked as well in China. The social networking titan has yet to comment on the issue.