Governments have used internet blackouts to control their citizens: 74 countries have shut down the web more than 900 times since 2016. Iran and Russia restricted access to hide brutality, while Myanmar implemented curfews that left people in the dark. Clearly, governments are using censorship as a tool of repression.
Internet shutdowns and censorship can severely disrupt access to information, curtailing human rights. While people may try to circumvent these measures, there is no single solution that can restore internet access for all at once.
WhatsApp, the world’s most widely-used messaging app with 2 billion monthly users, is introducing measures to help its users circumvent censorship. Its end-to-end encryption ensures secure communication and strengthens privacy protections worldwide.
WhatsApp is now enabling people to access the app via proxy connections, even in countries where it’s blocked. This allows users to bypass censorship and communicate freely. “Volunteers and organizations around the world are helping people connect through proxy servers,” says WhatsApp in a blog post about this new feature.
Proxies can help people avoid censorship by masking their traffic. For example, if WhatsApp is blocked in a country, connecting to a proxy server routes the traffic through this intermediary before passing it on to WhatsApp, allowing users to bypass any blocks or filters that are in place.
Natalia Krapiva, tech legal counsel at internet rights nonprofit Access Now, praises Meta’s tool: “WhatsApp is critical infrastructure in many countries. When it goes offline due to blockings or shutdowns, people are unable to communicate and access vital info during crises – a situation that Meta’s tool can help address.” WhatsApp adds that its encryption is unaffected when using a proxy.
WhatsApp, with its large user base, is a significant player in the messaging platform arena. It allows proxy connections just like Signal did when it released its Android and iOS versions to bypass Iran’s blocking of the app in February 2021 and September 2022 respectively.
WhatsApp is launching proxy connections to avoid disruptions in internet access due to the nationwide protests in Iran after Mahsa Amini’s death. These blackouts and blockages of services, including WhatsApp, have put great strain on Iran’s economy and sparked global criticism. Analysts predict that by 2022 internet shutdowns will cost the world $24 billion annually.