The Russian government has made its latest move in a battle with messaging app Telegram, following a court ruling in Moscow earlier this week. The state telecommunications agency Roskomnadzor (RKN) began blocking the app on Monday after it refused to comply with a court order that requested to hand over encryption keys, which Telegram understandably declined.
Ir order to severely limit Telegram access for Russian citizens, authorities blocked nearly 20m IP addresses, belonging to Google and Amazon, claiming they were being used by Telegram. However, some Russian app users report they are still able to use it without any additional measures to overcome a blockade, such as proxies or VPN services.
Pavel Durov, CEO, and founder of Telegram reacted to these events saying that, “For the last 24 hours Telegram has been under a ban by internet providers in Russia. The reason is our refusal to provide encryption keys to Russian security agencies. For us, this was an easy decision. We promised our users 100% privacy and would rather cease to exist than violate this promise. Despite the ban, we haven’t seen a significant drop in user engagement so far.“
Mr. Durov, who has left Russia in 2014 and has been an outspoken Kremlin critic ever since, also went on to say that Telegram has undertaken additional measures to remain available for its Russian users by relying on third-party cloud services. He also went on to thank four US tech giants – Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, for “not taking part in political censorship”.
It seems that such reckless censorship has caused quite significant collateral damage as a variety of other digital services were taken down. Users reported crashes of gaming networks like Playstation Network and Xbox Live, Android apps, video streaming services, online retailers, Microsoft and Windows updates and even some credit card terminals among many others. In addition to that, about 60 local businesses have sought legal assistance on the matter, according to local sources.
The boss of RKN, Alexander Zharov, claimed that 30% of Telegram networks were shut down and warned VPN and proxy service owners that RKN is coming after them next. Mr. Durov responded by offering donations in bitcoin to proxy and VPN administrators, assuring that he is “happy to donate millions of dollars this year to this cause” and hopes that other people will follow.
The messaging app is widely used in post-Soviet Union and Middle East countries and Russians account for approximately 7% of its total user base. Last month, Telegram reported to have reached 200 million active users. Such conflict is a good indication of how much democracy there actually is in Russia. Telegram is widely used by Russian political establishment itself and prominent politicians have openly criticized the ban.
Telegram was even used by Kremlin to arrange conference calls with the spokesman of Vladimir Putin. Curiously, on Monday all journalists, who were previously subscribed to an official Telegram chat, were asked to switch to an ICQ messaging service, which is part of the Kremlin-associated Mail.ru group.
The ban comes at a crucial time for Telegram, as it is in the midst of the biggest ICO in the short history of ICOs. The pre-sale targeted raising $600m but the demand increased the figure to a staggering $850m. Telegram planned to raise $1.2b in total but this number has already exceeded $1.7b. The company is developing its own blockchain, called Telegram Open Network.
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