The Facebook-owned messaging app has once again been blocked in China, reports The New York Times. This time it seems to be a complete block of all WhatsApp services, including video chats, voice chats, sending of images and other files, as well as text messages. BBC correspondents in China reported that the app had been going offline on and off for over a week now.
In #China Whatsapp mostly not working again without a VPN and some VPNs not working. Recent censorship escalates as Oct Congress approaches.
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) September 25, 2017
WhatsApp blocked in China – after interrupted access in recent days, completely inaccessible all day today. Blame the #19thPartyCongress?
— Ananth Krishnan (@ananthkrishnan) September 25, 2017
When WhatsApp had been blocked in mid-July this year, which was lifted a few weeks later, the Chinese government censors had stopped video chats, images transfers and in some cases voice chats, but text messages had remained largely unaffected. But this time around they seem to have found a way past WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption to target text messages.
This latest crackdown is believed to be a result of increase security measures deployed by Chinese authorities in anticipation for next month’s Communist Party meeting, to prevent dissidents from communicating and congregating in the lead up.
WhatsApp is the only Facebook product that’s operational in mainland China. Facebook’s primary social media service, including Messenger, and Instagram are both blocked in the country. It’s worth noting that Microsoft’s Skype, which doesn’t have end-to-end encryption, and Apple’s FaceTime, which does have end-to-end encryption, are both allowed to operate in China.
As of July 2017, WhatsApp claims to have recorded 1 billion daily active users, out of a total of 1.3 billion monthly active user base. That means around 77% of WhatsApp’s monthly active users are active daily. In May, WhatsApp had said that it had 340 million video calling minutes per day globally, spread across 55 million video calls made each day. That’s an average of 6 minutes and 11 seconds per call. In June 2016, WhatsApp had said that it was doing 100 million audio calls per day.
Whatsapp has so far declined to disclose its monthly and daily active users for India. However, in May 2017, WhatsApp had said that users in India use the video calling feature for a total of 50 million minutes per day. Assuming that WhatsApp had 200 million monthly active users then, that would mean around 7.5 minutes per user per month, or 15 seconds per day per user (assuming everyone is active every day).
Internet and social media blocking in India
In April this year, the Indian government banned social media in Kashmir: services including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube (upload), Vine, Google+, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumblr, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit, Snapfish, Xanga, Buzznet, Flickr and Baidu were banned for a month.
On the other hand, Human Rights Watch said that there have been 20 internet shutdowns in 2017. It added that Indian authorities should cease arbitrary restrictions of the country’s Internet and telecommunications networks. While, The Centre for Communication Governance at NLU Delhi counts more than 40 instances in two years where the internet was suspended for emergencies.
In India, mobile Internet bans are generally enforced under Section 144 of the CrPC, which can be issued by a district magistrate or the collector. The number of Internet blocks has increased dramatically following the Supreme Court’s ruling which upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services for maintaining law and order in February 2016.