“Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Viber were blocked before. Now even WhatsApp is blocked? Without good messaging tools, it will reduce the efficiency of the foreign trade industry,” a Weibo user said.
China’s government has a history of blocking and slowing down internet services. As a result, many of China’s residents have chosen to switch to apps that are easily monitored, like the WeChat app.
“If you’re only allowed to drive one mile per hour, you’re not going to drive on that road, even if it’s not technically blocked,” Internet Communications Specialist Lokman Tsui said.
The massive blocking comes as Beijing prepares for the Communist Party’s congress on October 18. The congress, which is held every five years, is used to determine the party’s leadership.
“As we get to the Party congress, I think authorities will use more extreme censorship measures. The public knows WeChat isn’t safe,” Activist Hu Jia said. “Me and other dissidents use WhatsApp to communicate 70 percent of the time. For the few days WhatsApp was completely inaccessible, we didn’t talk at all.”
In July, China began censoring video chats and the sending of photographs and other files through the app. However, the restrictions were lifted within weeks.
Over the years, China has upped its censorship and jailed dozens of activists, lawyers and advocates. Today, most residents use WeChat. The service has more than 960 million active users and close ties to the government.
China agrees to allow online data services when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, but obtained permission to restrict different aspects of the media.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative is investigating whether China is violating the intellectual rights of American companies.
WhatsApp mostly relies on internet data to run, but its text messaging uses a different, encrypted method. The latest disruption shows that the government has found a way to target the encryption.
Microsoft’s Skype service and Apple’s FaceTime is still allowed in the country. Residents of China can still use the service if they connect to Virtual Private Networks. In January, Beijing established a mandate requiring developers to obtain licenses before offering Virtual Private Networks, leading many to believe that they are next.