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Iran blocks messaging app Telegram used by protesters

12 January 2018, 09:41 | Randall Craig

Getty Images for TechCrunch

Getty Images for TechCrunch

According to Pavel Durov, the CEO of Telegram, he had refused to shut down "peacefully protesting channels" which led to the blocking of Telegram in Iran. Havad also requested Durov to stop encouraging such activities via Telegram. Eventually violence erupted in some of Iran's major cities, including capital Tehran, as citizens took to the streets, with some videos showing people reportedly chanting "death to the dictator", according to Reuters.

The government also banned Instagram, although government representatives insist both bans are temporary and will be lifted once protests subside.

Iran's government has also been targeting Telegram channel administrators - issuing a requirement that admins of channels with more than 5,000 members register with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The messaging app stated that the decision to suspend the channel didn't come because of the pressure from Tehran but because it had violated Telegram's terms of service.

A Telegram channel (amadnews) started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police and got suspended due to our "no calls for violence" rule. The cleric wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July in which he said he wouldn't support his son over AmadNews' reporting and messages on its Telegram channel.

However, researchers at Oracle's Internet Intelligence Team, which tracks global internet outages, say that while Iran might selectively block any number of sites from being accessed directly, the only wholesale internet outage in Iran took place on Monday and lasted about 13 minutes.

"Telegram channels are frequently used for organizing protests and for sharing political opinion", said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.




Telegram is one of the biggest social media platforms in Iran. Telegram, especially, is highly popular in Iran - with more than 50 per cent of the country reported as using the app. It is used by millions of people globally and has been criticized by USA and European officials for allowing extremist groups and terrorists to communicate secretly.

Since the 2009 Green Movement, more Iranians have access to anti-censorship technology, such as VPNs and proxies, servers that transmit content that can evade government controls.

In other words, Iranian censors are clearly trying to suppress knowledge of how large (and in some cases violent) the protests have become, as well as disrupt the protesters' ability to organise.

In addition, many Iranians are using outdated iPhone devices and skipping software security updates, which means they may be more vulnerable to state-sponsored hacking and surveillance, Toker said.

"Google has chosen to adhere to the strictest letter of the law regarding sanctions in Iran, and by doing so they are blocking Iranians from this service", Mr. Anderson said.



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