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China disrupts WhatsApp ahead of Communist meeting

By AFP 26 September 2017

Chinese authorities appear to have severely disrupted the WhatsApp messaging app in the latest step to tighten censorship as they prepare for a major Communist Party congress next month.

Users in China have reported widespread disruptions in recent days to the Facebook-owned service, which previously malfunctioned in the country over the summer.

Text messaging, voice calls and video calls appeared to be working again on Tuesday, though voice messages and photos were not going through.

WhatsApp provides message encryption technology that likely does not please Chinese authorities, which closely monitor and restrict cyberspace through their “Great Firewall”.

China has tightened online policing this year, enacting new rules that require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as restrictions on what is permissible content.

Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and a slew of foreign media have been blocked for years.

The WhatsApp troubles emerged ahead of the Communist Party congress on October 18, when President Xi Jinping is expected to be given a second five-year term as the party’s general secretary.

China usually steps up surveillance around major events.

While the WeChat messaging app owned by China’s Tencent company is more widely used in the country, many WhatsApp users complained about the disruptions.

Some noted that it would make it difficult to work with clients abroad.

“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,” wrote one person on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media website.

“I can live without the others (applications), but blocking WhatsApp is driving me crazy,” said another.

WhatsApp declined to comment. DM

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