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Sci-Tech
Tuesday Mar 16 2021
By
AFP

Encrypted messaging app Signal goes offline in China

By
AFP

  • Users of free app in China were unable to access it without a virtual private network (VPN).
  • Signal's website has been banned since at least March 15, according to the GreatFire.org website which tracks online censorship in China.
  • In January, people around the world flocked to apps such as Telegram and Signal after Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp tweaked its terms of service.


BEIJING: Encrypted messaging app Signal, that rose to prominence following WhatsApp's new terms and service, seems to have been blocked in China on Tuesday.

Users of the free app, which has surged in popularity globally after rising privacy concerns, were unable to access it without a virtual private network (VPN).

China has deployed a vast and sophisticated system to scrub the internet of dissent and prevent citizens from accessing international social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, in what is known as the "Great Firewall".

Signal's website has been banned since at least March 15, according to the GreatFire.org website which tracks online censorship in China, although the app remains available on China's App Store.

Read more: Pakistani users warned of fake links to Signal, Babble, TeleChatty and Filos

Signal did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment.

The iOS version of Signal has been installed close to 510,000 times to date in China, said research firm Sensor Tower, which does not track Android downloads in the country. Google Play is unavailable in China.

Globally, the app has crossed 100 million installs across both Apple's App Store and Google Play combined, Sensor Tower told AFP.

In January, people around the world flocked to apps such as Telegram and Signal after the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp tweaked its terms of service and sparked privacy concerns.

Signal saw a huge surge in demand, helped by a tweeted recommendation by tech entrepreneur Musk.

Read more: After WhatsApp controversy, are Signal’s chats not safe anymore?

The WhatsApp policy update — later delayed — concerned how merchants using WhatsApp to chat with customers can share data with Facebook, which could use the information for targeted ads, according to the social network.

Signal has stopped working without a VPN occasionally before, although service resumed afterwards.

Co-founder of GreatFire.org Martin Johnson told AFP that its data showed that the app was briefly unavailable in the App Store in 2019.

Last month China closed down the Clubhouse app in China, an audio platform which boomed briefly in the country for uncensored discussion of taboo topics.