Facebook is Terrified of Anarchist-run Telegram App
This is a story I’ve been sitting on as I was waiting for more information on the matter. One of the major flaws in tech news (well, all news really) is that no one takes time to let the dust settle before reporting on something. Perhaps this is part of the plan for news sites that rely on ad impressions, but often this leads to follow-up stories days later that make the initial story either a complete lie, or at least meaningless. This story, however wild it may have seemed, looks to be absolutely true.
Facebook is blocking the Telegram app. With their already-popular-before-they-bought-it WhatsApp messaging app. Well, they’re blocking the sharing of Telegram links (“telegram.me” and “telegram.org” kind of stuff) inside WhatsApp. And this only affects the Android version of WhatsApp.
Many people thought that since this was only affecting the Android version, it must be some kind of fluke (and these sorts of flukes do happen often). But then someone got a good look at the code…
Oh…no, no…this is no fluke. Facebook/WhatsApp purposefully put into the code, “Do not allow Telegram links”. You read it for yourself, Telegram is a “badHost”. Bad Telgram! Bad!
But what gives? Up until the past few months, most people had barely ever heard of Telegram, and my mention of it on Sovryn Tech–for years–didn’t seem to give it traction (except for in my own home geographic area of New Hampshire). So what the Hell could Facebook be worried about? WhatsApp has nearly 1 billion users, as to where Telegram seems stuck at the 60 million user range (not that such is anything to sneeze at, of course). In fact, it gets worse…Telegram has also had its Facebook page taken down.
Many news organizations, and Telegram themselves, have tried reaching out to Facebook for comment on what is going on here, but as yet with no reply (and if one comes, I will certainly cover it here at the Dark Android Project, as Telegram is one of my recommended apps).
Followers of my blogs and of my tech podcast Sovryn Tech know that I’ve theorized for years that Facebook–and every other tech giant, really–has been working towards the goal of creating their own “internets” (yes, plural). We’re going back to the days of AOL, MSN, Prodigy, and CompuServ…and Facebook is leading the charge. And I think this blocking of Telegram is a part of that mission. How do you create your own internet? Block everything that isn’t a part of it, of course.
I think there is more behind Facebook’s move than that, though. Telegram has lately been adding a butt-load of features–from bots, to channels, to better group controls, to stickers…all manner of things–that Facebook is seeing a real competitor emerge. And with Telegram creator/owner Pavel Durov’s previous wild success with VK.com (the “Facebook of the East”), ol’Zuckerberg knows that Telegram has all the right stuff to bring Facebook to its knees. Mix in the fact that Telegram is encrypted (though many rightfully debate the quality of that encryption) with the purpose of saying “fuck you” to every government on the planet (Pavel Durov is a noted anarchist)–which governments are Facebook’s real bread-and-butter (not advertising)–Telegram clearly also has the attitude that many people want out of their apps in our post-Snowden era: an open-source security and privacy-oriented attitude and implementation, or what I call “DAPS“.
Some may want to theorize that Facebook is reacting to the reports from the recent Paris attacks that ISIS used Telegram as a way to communicate, and so Facebook is blocking them out of some kind of misguided morality. But this is A.) false (the attacks were achieved without encryption), and B.) WhatsApp–since being owned by Facebook–has been proven to have been used in “acts of terror” in the past. So if this theory were true, Facebook should be shutting down WhatsApp while they’re at it.
Another theory may be that this is just a testing of waters on Facebook’s part to–as I stated earlier–block even more messengers and content in the future, and just see how the public reacts to this…or if they’d even notice that this was being done to Telegram. Again, Telegram is (unfortunately) somewhat of a smaller platform in this space. Messaging ecosystems like WeChat, LINE, and others are way ahead as far as users (and in some ways, features). Blocking Telegram would be a “great” testbed for Facebook to eventually begin blocking everything that isn’t Facebook (and this is bolstered by Facebook’s push for “native publishing” by content providers and news sites into Facebook itself, and not their own sites). This theory is entirely possible, and this “testbed theory” would explain why this isn’t happening on the iOS version of WhatsApp. And it is wholly different from the idea that they are afraid of Telegram as competition, this is just them wanting tyrannical control of their platform (and control of what their users can see and do). It doesn’t make Facebook’s actions any more palatable, though.
But let’s face the reality here. This is a classic whitewash on the part of Facebook. They don’t want an encrypted, open-source, pro-privacy world, and they don’t want people to even think that it’s possible. They don’t want services that exist that give people actual control of their data, and thus, their lives. Just look at internet.org, for fuck’s sake. They don’t want to bring “power to the people”, they want to bring Facebook’s version of reality to the people. Also, the klaxons should be blaring loudly in everyone’s head about what this means for an absolute fact: if you rely on a platform that isn’t open-source–and is thus always controlled by some individual or small group of people–you the user are ultimately at the mercy of an individual or company as to what you can see, share, or do in apps, and then by default, on the internet.
Think about that. Fortunately, we can take action against this censorship (which equates to a lack of freedom) by making better choices in what apps and services we use and support. Facebook, and everything it owns, obviously do not fall under “better choices”. Despite people’s encryption-quality concerns around Telegram (I share them), it is definitely an open-source, and seemingly by Facebook’s reaction to it, viable alternative to many of these other apps and services (especially with its cross-platform ability; really, Telegram is available on every platform). And perhaps the old saying is true, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. You can find me on Telegram at @Sovryn.