MOSCOW — On April 13, a Russian court decreed an immediate blocking of the app Telegram across the country. The decision came after the refusal of Telegram to provide Russian security services with access to users' private messages. The authorities said it was a necessity in the fight against terrorist threats. However, Pavel Durov, founder and CEO of Telegram, declared that the authorities' requirement would not improve Russia"s security, and would violate people's privacy and contradict the Constitution. He said the blockage was illegitimate and promised to do everything possible to prevent its implementation. So what happened next?
It is Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications regulator, that was charged with shutting down Telegram, a technical process of restricting the app was begun on April 16, 2018. The actions resulted in the hindering of functions of third parties but caused almost no problems for Telegram itself. A month has passed since the moment of the blockage of Telegram but Roskomnadzor has not managed to seriously limit access to the messenger. Experts say that further development of the situation does not depend so much on the authorities' actions, but on decisions of Apple and Google, which are still siding with Telegram.
Telegram's CEO Pavel Durof at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in San Francisco, U.S. on Sept. 21, 2015 — Photo: TechCrunch
Kommersant spoke with an insider from the industry, who said it was a bad move by authorities to try to start blocking the app right after the court decision. Even just the analysis of such an ambitious task should have taken at least five days. Other experts had voiced similar opinions, including those from the Ministry of Communication who warned Roskomnadzor that the situation might develop unpredictably.
The privacy rights of all internet users are at stake.
The main reason why Telegram manages to evade the blockage is the existence of a constant channel of communication with users' gadgets via push-notifications that are sent from the servers of Apple and Google. Roskomnadzor has already discussed with the operators what methods are available for the blocking of push-notifications that Telegram sends to users. The regulator has also sent Apple and Google demands to remove the Telegram apps from the online-shop, but it hasn't happened yet.
Apple and Google have not explained why they don't fulfill the requirement on Telegram, but for the moment the decision is serving their PR interests. Telegram's Durov has repeatedly declared that the conflict is not caused by the refusal to satisfy the request concerning data of six users suspected of being involved in the April 2017 explosion of the metro in Saint Petersburg. With the privacy rights of all internet users at stake, there are political and reputational risks that can reach around the world.
Kommersant"s source is acquainted with the details of the standoff, and says that it is not only about politics: unlike Linkedin, Telegram simply has "stronger arguments against the blockage." The Russian company is also capable of countering destructive influence alone, by embedded methods of evading blockages that are partly similar to those ones that were patented ten years ago by scholars from the Russian ministry of defense.