Facebook-owned popular instant messaging app WhasApp has been blocked by Brazil, stopping users from sending or receiving texts via the app. The move comes after a judge told telecom operators to restrict access to the service for 48 hours, as it failed to comply with a July court order. The blockade was put into effect at midnight (0200 GMT) on Thursday as per the court’s orders.
“This is a sad day for Brazil. Until today, Brazil has been an ally in creating an open internet,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The primary reason for the blockade comes from a criminal case registered in the Sao Paulo State Justice Tribunal in São Bernardo do Campo. Reports suggest that it involves a drug trafficker associated with Sao Paulo’s biggest criminal gangs, who allegedly used WhatsApp.
According to the court, WhatsApp did not comply with an order issued on July 23 after which they were notified again on August 7. Hence, failure to respond to the court’s order led the prosecution to ban WhatsApp in the country for 48 hours. Most of the details regarding the case has been kept in hiding by the judge, which is allowed by a Brazilian court.
“We are 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,” said Jan Koum, chief executive of WhatsApp, in a statement posted on Facebook.
WhatsApp says it has a large user base in Brazil, with over 100 million users that include companies, government officials along with residents of the country. The temporary blockade has forced millions of new users to switch to rival app Telegram, who since the ban has seen over 1.5 million sign-ups. Telegram said that since the blockade, there has been a barrage of users trying to sign up for the service that it could not even send out verification codes used to sign up.
1.500.000 and counting, SMS-Gateways overloading. Hang on, your codes are coming! We've got all hands on deck to accommodate the crazy load.
— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) December 17, 2015
Tech companies are also skeptical of mobile phone operators in Brazil, who often see services such as WhatsApp as a threat to their own business model. They believe that services offered by then such as free calls (VoIP) often underestimates the services offered by them. Many of them have even tried to persuade the government to limit access to such services in Brazil.
Updated December 17 at 5:30 a.m. UTC: WhatsApp is now back online in Brazil and the block has been lifted! says Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook.