Tens of millions secretly use WhatsApp despite bans

  • Author, Joe Tidy
  • Role, Cybercorrespondent

“Tens of millions” of people use technical solutions to secretly access WhatsApp in countries where it is banned, said the boss of the messaging platform.

“You’d be surprised how many people get it,” Will Cathcart told BBC News.

Like many Western apps, WhatsApp is banned in Iran, North Korea and Syria.

And last month, China joined the list of those banning users from the secure platform.

Other countries, including Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, restrict features such as voice calls.

But WhatsApp can see where its users actually are, thanks to their registered phone numbers.

“We have a lot of anecdotal reports of people using WhatsApp and what we can do is look at some of the countries where we’re seeing blockages and still see tens of millions of people logging into WhatsApp,” Mr. Cathcart to BBC News.

“Stop something”

China ordered Apple to block Chinese iPhone users from downloading WhatsApp from the AppStore in April, a move Mr Cathcart calls “unfortunate” – even though the country has never been a major market for the application.

“It’s a choice that Apple made,” he said.

“There are not any alternatives.

“I mean, this is definitely a situation where they put themselves in a position to really be able to stop something.”

However, Android users can still download WhatsApp without going through the official stores.

But elsewhere, Mr Cathcart said the rise of virtual private networks (VPNs) and WhatsApp’s proxy service, launched last June, had helped keep WhatsApp accessible.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, WhatsApp has two billion users worldwide

Suspected criminals

Besides WhatsApp and Signal – both end-to-end encrypted, so only the sender and recipient can read the content – ​​China has banned Telegram and demanded the removal of microblogging app Threads.

Mr Cathcart was speaking to the BBC on the final day of the World Service Presents event on internet freedom.

He has long believed that the successful export of Western technology platforms is essential to the dissemination of liberal democratic values.

But he admits that his power is waning, as are Western ideals of a free and open Internet.

“It’s certainly under threat – and I think it’s a struggle,” Mr Cathcart told BBC News.

“We take great pride in the fact that we provide secure private communications, free from surveillance by authoritarian governments, or even government censorship, to people around the world who otherwise would not have them.

“But it’s a constant threat and a constant battle.”

With the potential ban on Chinese company TikTok over national security concerns, the United States has now joined this battle.

And Mr Cathcart was also keen to raise concerns about continued government moves, including in the UK, to ban end-to-end encryption and allow police to read messages from suspected criminals.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think the debate is over,” he told BBC News.

“People care about privacy, if they are aware of end-to-end encryption, what it is and how it works.

“And that’s one of the reasons we’ve had to communicate so much about this, is to be very clear about what this means and what the issues are.”

News Source :
Gn tech

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