China’s obsession to wield a strict control over even the private lives of its citizens on the pretext of national security is back in the fore once again with reports of WhatsApp picture and voice messages getting pruned.
Some said they are having issues with the messaging app and fear it could be next in line for a country wide ban. Users also complained the app is often not accessible, forcing them use a VPN to circumvent the country’s strict internet traffic monitoring policies.
China had earlier issued a blanket ban on popular social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube claiming such services can pose a risk to its security, both internal and external. The timing of the development too has raised many eyebrows given that it clashes with the funeral of the Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo who died recently while in state custody.
Any pictures commemorating Liu Xiaobo’s death is being removed immediately, often in real time. In fact, such is the zeal in preventing Xiaobo getting any attention in social circles that experts believe China could be relying on advanced image recognition software to help its efforts. Needless to say, Xiaobo was highly critical of China’s oppressive and non-democratic policies.
The fact that WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption should also be the biggest concern for the Chinese authorities. Compared to WeChat that happens to be the most widely used messaging service in China, the Facebook owned app has a relatively small user base.
However, given that the government agencies have the least chances of keeping an eye on what is circulating on WhatsApp, a complete ban on the service can’t be ruled out entirely. WeChat is already extensively censored so that people only get to see and read what the government wants. Not surprisingly, any message hailing Xiaobo is being deleted ruthlessly.
The government had earlier issued a stern warning to pro-democracy protestors in Singapore that had begun to gain strength.