WhatsApp users in China forced to use VPNs as disruption continues

20 Jul 2017

WhatsApp on a phone. Image: PixieMe/Shutterstock

Facebook is facing a complete loss in the Chinese market as WhatsApp users in the country now have to use VPNs to access it.

China’s rigorous clampdown on the internet continues as news has emerged from the country that many of its WhatsApp users are reporting issues with being able to send audio and video, and, in some cases, simple text messages.

According to the Financial Times, the only way to access these WhatsApp services in China at the moment is through a location-masking VPN, which, as we noted recently, will be outright banned in the country from February 2018.

The news will come as a major blow to WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, which was relying on the messaging service to maintain a presence in China, as its main social network is banned there, along with many other popular services from the western world.

When it comes to communications apps such as WhatsApp, China’s biggest gripe with American companies is that they store their user data outside of the country’s borders, prompting China to make demands for internal storage.

Looking specifically at Facebook, the social network was one of the company’s first products to fall outside the ‘Great Firewall of China’ back in 2009. In 2014, it was joined by Instagram after the medium became popular with democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

End of WhatsApp in China?

So far, WhatsApp users are only reporting a disruption to their service and many will want to continue using the app for its advertised end-to-end encryption.

Despite popular use elsewhere in the world, WhatsApp is dwarfed in China by Tencent’s WeChat, which has approximately 850m active monthly users but does not offer the same level of encryption.

As for the future of WhatsApp in China, these disruptions are an ominous message, possibly predicting its eventual blocking by the country – many of the already-banned services, such as Gmail, experienced similar disruptions prior to their own blocking.

WhatsApp on a phone. Image: PixieMe/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic