China disrupts WhatsApp ahead of Communist Party meeting

Chinese authorities appear to have severely disrupted the WhatsApp messaging app in the latest step to tighten censorship as they prepare for a major Communist Party congress next month .
Users in China have reported widespread disruptions in recent days to the Facebook - owned service , which previously malfunctioned in the country over the summer .
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Experts said the problems began on Sunday , but text messaging , voice calls and video calls appeared to be working again on Tuesday , though voice messages and photos were not going through.
WhatsApp provides message encryption technology that likely does not please Chinese authorities , which closely monitor and restrict cyberspace through their “ Great Firewall ” .
China has tightened online policing this year, enacting new rules that require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as restrictions on what is permissible content .
Websites such as Facebook, Twitter , Pinterest and a slew of foreign media have been blocked for years .
The WhatsApp troubles emerged ahead of the Communist Party congress on October 18 , when President Xi Jinping is expected to be given a second five - year term as the party’ s general secretary .
“ It smells like Party congress pre - emptive blocking , ” said Jason Ng , who researches China ’ s internet at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto .
China usually steps up surveillance around major events, Ng said.
– ‘ Extreme censorship’ –
While the WeChat messaging app owned by China ’s Tencent company is more widely used in the country , many WhatsApp users complained about the disruptions.
Many Chinese activists prefer to use Whatsapp because of its end - to- end encryption .
“ As we get closer to the Party congress , I think authorities will use more extreme censorship measures . The public knows that WeChat isn ’ t safe , ” prominent Beijing - based activist Hu Jia told AFP .
“ Me and other dissidents use WhatsApp to communicate 70 percent of the time . For the few days WhatsApp was completely inaccessible , we didn ’ t talk at all , ” Hu said.
Other users in China noted that the disruptions would make it difficult to work with clients abroad .
“ Facebook, Twitter , Gmail, Viber were blocked before . Now even WhatsApp is blocked? Without good messaging tools , it will reduce the efficiency of the foreign trade industry , ” wrote one person on Weibo, China ’ s Twitter - like social media website .
“ I can live without the others (applications ) , but blocking WhatsApp is driving me crazy, ” said another .
WhatsApp declined to comment .
The Open Observatory of Network Interference , a global censorship detection group , said China started blocking WhatsApp on Sunday .
– Growing firewall –
To operate in China , some foreign tech companies have complied with local regulations . But others such as Google have chosen to pull out completely from mainland China .
In July, Apple removed software allowing internet users to skirt China ’ s “Great Firewall ” from its app store in the country , drawing criticism that it was bowing to Beijing’ s ever - growing web censorship .
Such software, called virtual private networks (VPN ), allow people in China to access any website , even those that are blocked.
Beijing mandated in January that all developers must obtain government licences to offer VPNs and there has been concern that it might ban them outright .
AFP