Why Do Countries Block Access to Messenger Applications?
Why are some countries shutting down Messenger Applications to their general public?
Messenger applications are used extensively by people all over the world, but there are some countries where their use is not allowed. Those countries have blocked access to all the major platforms, but what is their motivation for doing so?
The reasons countries issue these bans are varied, but they usually fall into one of two categories:
- Profit protection
- Access to data
Telecoms companies all over the world have traditionally made a lot of money from their core services – charging people to make phone calls and send text messages. Messenger apps give users a way to make those calls and send those text messages without paying anything. The only caveat is they must have access to the internet.
As a result, telecoms companies have lost money in recent years to messenger apps. Many of the countries that have banned these apps have done so to protect the profit of their big telecoms companies.
Often this happens in countries where there is a large foreign workforce. Messenger apps would be ideal for those foreign workers to keep in touch with members of their family in their home country, but telecoms companies – and the regulators that oversee them – want customers to use traditional methods of calling so they can be charged.
Access to Data
Access to data is the other reason messenger apps are banned. One of the highest profile examples is Brazil. It has blocked WhatsApp on several occasions for failing to hand over chat logs. The authorities in Brazil want the chat logs to use in a criminal investigation.
Facebook, WhatsApp’s owners, said this was not possible as the messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. While they store the messages, this encryption means the company cannot access them.
There has even been talk that something similar could happen in a country like the UK. All messenger apps are currently available in the UK and they are hugely popular. The UK government, however, has wanted a law for some time that would force telecoms companies and ISPs to keep a record of all communications from their users for 12 months.
The UK government wants its security services to have access to this information. This leads us back to the encryption issue again – the security services won’t be able to access communications sent on services with end-to-end encryption even if they are stored for 12 months. This has led to fears that such services may be banned in the future.
In other words, there are only two possibilities if the law is ever enacted in the way the UK government wants:
- Messenger apps with end-to-end encryption open a back door so security services can access their users’ communications; or,
- The apps are banned
Governments, regulators, telecoms companies, and messenger apps all have a role to play in this – providing you take the view that as many people as possible around the world should have access to messenger apps
Governments, regulators, and telecoms companies have to realize that consumers have permanently moved away from the old business models. Issuing bans is rowing against the tide and is not sustainable.
Messenger apps have to realize that storing records of their users’ communications will always leave them open to pressure from governments. They may have to adjust their business models too.