WhatsApp has started blocking any links to competitor Telegram, with the URLs now appearing as a normal message rather than a hyperlink. Users are also blocked from copy-pasting the text, effectively treating the URL as spam. This was first reported by the Verge, after a thread on reddit pointed out the issue.
Interestingly, it’s not just Telegram (the messenger) that is affected, rather any URL with Telegram as a domain name is blocked. This includes the media portal Telegram.com, and any stories linked to the website. The block does not seem to affect users using either the desktop or iOS client of WhatsApp. The block also doesn’t affect website like telegra, telegramz or other domains or links that might actually be illegal like torrent websites.
Code points to intentional blocking: A part of the code responsible for blocking was uploaded to pastebin after some reddit users further investigated the matter. The code essentially confirms the blocking is intentional, as WhatsApp lists Telegram under the ‘BAD_HOST’ class, looking for the specific string not preceded by a word separator and followed by any top level domain. The block applies only in the latest version of WhatsApp 2.12.367 and previous versions still hyperlink to Telegram.
Following Facebook’s footsteps: Last month, Facebook started blocking Tsu, a social network that pays users by sharing revenues users generate by posting on the site. According to the CEO of the startup, Facebook even removed any mention of the site retroactively from its archives. According to Facebook however, this block is simply to prevent spam. The company doesn’t allow developers to incentivize content sharing citing that it encourages spammy sharing. Check out Facebook’s spam prevention policy. It’s worth noting that Facebook Messenger started blocking links to torrent websites, even those of copyright-free content.
MediaNama’s take: Facebook’s claim that Tsu leads to spam might be legit, given Tsu shares revenues for sharing on Facebook and inviting new users, however, there really is no justification for blocking Telegram other than that because Whatsapp could. Note that, blocking content on their own platforms is well within the rights of companies.
On the flip side, both these companies hold enormous power over how people use the internet and communicate. WhatsApp recently hit 900 million users globally, while many users in Southeast Asia don’t know the difference between Facebook and the internet. WhatsApp blocking a competitor, especially with collateral damage leading to a legitimate news website being blocked, is relevant when the app is so ubiquitous among users for exchange of information. As a private platform, they are free to be non-neutral, and it’s only when dependencies are inordinately high in the market, in a way that there is little room for competition, and a company’s practices advantage its own services at the expense of others, should this matter.
So, ask yourself: do WhatsApp and Facebook have any noteworthy competitors in India and internationally? Assuming that these services are disproportionately dominant, do they use their positions of dominance to further its own competing services in a manner that it disadvantages others? Read more here, a report on the CCI investigation on Google for abusing its dominant position in India.