Brazil silences WhatsApp message service for 48 hours. But nothing stops the …

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Brazil court orders WhatsApp messaging to be suspended.

SAO PAULO, Dec 17 – A Brazilian court has ordered cellular service providers nationwide to block the popular WhatsApp Smartphone application for two days until midnight Saturday, in a move roundly denounced by parent company Facebook. The TechCrunch website says it is used by 93% of the country’s internet population and is especially popular among young people and the poor who take advantage of its free text message and internet telephone service.RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians joined in black humor and tech giants expressed worry over the state’s heavy hand Thursday after a judge banned the hugely popular cellphone chat and voice service WhatsApp for 48 hours.

The unprecedented 48-hour blockage served to implement a Sao Paulo state court order that had requested WhatsApp cooperate in a criminal investigation. WhatsApp chief executive Jan Koum said he was “disappointed in the short-sighted decision to cut off access to WhatsApp, a communication tool that so many Brazilians have come to depend on, and sad to see Brazil isolate itself from the rest of the world”. “I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.” Brazilian media has reported that Judge Sandra Regina Nostre Marques applied the ban in relation to the app’s withholding of messages relating to a suspect in a drug-trafficking investigation. The service is so widely used in Brazil that people often ask for “your WhatsApp” rather than your number. “This is a sad day for Brazil,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Brazil’s telecoms industry, which sees so-called “over the top” voice and messaging services delivered over the internet as a threat to its business model, has been lobbying the government for months to declare these services illegal, according to TechCrunch.

This major influx seems to have started before Brazil’s WhatsApp blackout came into effect, showing a proactive user base that was preempting the ban by switching to an alternative service. Though there’s been strong opposition to WhatsApp — which provides an internet calling service along with messaging — from local telecoms, it’s not yet clear why Brazil’s judiciary deemed this ban necessary. Rival messaging services have already been reporting surges in user numbers, with Telegram, an instant messaging service that encrypts communication between users, reporting more than 1.5 million Brazilians had joined since the court order was made. At this point SMS gateways started struggling to keep pace with demand, with Telegram urging Brazilians trying to sign up but not getting sent an SMS verification code to “hang on! For its part, Telegram says that it prefers “natural growth [over] such spikes,” and it’s doing its best to welcome new users to the service and get them acclimated.

This means that many choose to keep in touch with friends and family via internet messaging services, rather than pricier voice calls or text messages. Demand for Telegram in Brazil has been so overwhelming, in fact, that the company can’t send out account-verifying SMS codes fast enough to get everyone on board. Depending on how well the verification snag gets smoothed out, Telegram should see that 1.5M+ figure swell a lot further as the 48hour WhatsApp shutdown is not yet even halfway through yet, and the network effect of friends getting friends to download the same messaging alternative spirals out. WhatsApp first exploded in Brazil’s numerous favelas and low-income communities, where it is called “sap sap,” as 3G services become more available because it is free.

The last time that WhatsApp had a major outage, Telegram actually added 5 million users as a direct result, so today’s developments just cement Telegram’s position as the world’s second favorite messaging client. Back in February 2014 news that Facebook had acquired the messaging platform pushed Telegram above WhatsApp in the App Store download rankings — as app users voted with their fingertips to express apparent displeasure at the platform being taken over by the social web’s 800-pound gorilla. This isn’t the only internet controversy roiling Brazil these days: There is a bill in the works that would potentially require all Brazilians to provide their home address and tax information to access any site on the web, with sites like Facebook and Google required to store that information for up to three years. Others complained that flirting opportunities had been reduced, or linked the block to a political crisis threatening President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment proceedings. Despite a few spikes in downloads over its history, Telegram’s user base has held relatively steady in recent times (current Brazilian bump notwithstanding).

Telegram had 62 million monthly active users back in May of this year, less than a tenth of WhatsApp’s 800 million, and its present unplanned expansion is sure to bump that number up significantly. Others joked that it was an opportunity to get some relief from the huge WhatsApp messaging groups of friends, family or work colleagues that cause Brazilians’ cellphones to ping with new texts every few seconds.

However it has seen a significant increase in messaging volume over the same period this year, growing from 1BN daily messages sent in February to 12BN by September, so the engagement of its user-base has clearly been ramping up. Founder Pavel Durov likes to point out a laundry list of feature-set advantages for his messaging platform vs WhatsApp, as he sees it — from an end-to-end encrypted messaging feature, to cross-device sync capability, to the ability to send large media files/documents, and more expansive options around group chat, telling TechCrunch back in September that encryption and privacy are just “one of the things that makes Telegram different”.

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