Russia’s Telegram ban is a big, convoluted mess

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If you want to know why I'm not on WhatsApp with its other 1.5 billion users, the answer is Telegram. For people who are not familiar with it, I like to describe Telegram simply as WhatsApp without any of the annoying data shared with Facebook. It has been my favorite and most trusted messaging client, and its platform independent design means that I can access my messages on iPhones, Android devices and desktop browsers. I'm a big fan of Telegram, which is part of why your current ban in your native Russia worries me.
Telegram had its beginning, and its initial funding, under the premise of providing a messaging tool that was protected from the inquisitive gaze of Russian spy agencies. Its effectiveness in achieving that original objective has been demonstrated this month with the decision of a Russian court that Telegram should be banned in the country, because the application's manufacturers refuse to deliver the encryption keys to the Russian government.
Russia blocks entire Internet blocks just to prevent people from accessing Telegram
Now, granted, Telegram has gained unwanted notoriety for being a preferred broadcast method for terrorist propaganda and a tool for organizing terrorist acts, but that is the fate that awaits any end-to-end encrypted messaging service focused on Privacy. The Russian ban seems to be a transparent effort to obtain control and supervision of the messaging habits of ordinary Russians.
Although the court ruling was issued on Friday, the implementation of the ban did not begin until Monday, when the different local ISPs began to block Telegram using the awkward method of, um, blocking IP 15.8 million on Amazon and the platforms in the Google cloud. Telegram routes traffic through these cloud services to bypass Russian state interference, but so do many other Russian companies, and since the block is not smart enough to isolate Telegram, it generated many problems and flaws in online banking and retail services. across the country. The large scale of this "collateral damage" provides an adequate illustration of the importance that Russia gives Telegram to meet their demands or die.

Subregés affected: Some of these are used by many Russian retail chains and banks. If it is okay. Manual (@CatVsHumanity) April 16, 2018

In related measures, Russia's telecoms regulator asked Apple and Google to withdraw Telegram from its app stores, requesting that the popular side-download site APK Mirror also stop serving Telegram (which would be the first alternative for users of Telegram). Android, Google should comply with and remove Telegram from the Play Store) and even urged VPN providers to prevent Telegram messages from being transmitted.

Next to the block, the media backed by the Russian state have served to raise grisly stories such as "5 acts of terrorism organized in Telegram" and the recommendation to change TamTam as a solid Telegram alternative. As expected, TamTam is not such a thing. It is a poor Telegram clone operated by, which is owned by Alisher Usmanov, who in turn has been named "Putin's buddy" by US senators. Another funny note is that TamTam fell for a while yesterday due to the brute force block of Telegram, joining a couple of major banks, the 3D Secure feature of MasterCard and some retail chains in malfunction.
To get a better idea of ​​the use of Telegram in Russia, the government's motivations to block it, and the full effect of the current ban, I asked two Russian friends for their thoughts.
How important is Telegram in Russia? Do you feel that you have a viable alternative to use, such as WhatsApp, which is also encrypted?
Anton Nekhaenko: Telegram is very important for certain narrow margins of society. Russian society is a great sea of ​​Viber, with puddles of WhatsApp here and there, and Telegram is for the small accommodated margin. It's a drop in a bucket.
For me, Telegram is as important as WhatsApp, but in a different way. One-to-one communications are not most of the things I do on Telegram. It's mainly channels. The channels are really the total problem that the government is currently having with Telegram. Not some shady terrorist chats.
In Russia, in particular, there are many channels that offer current news and analysis anonymously. A lot of channels with dirt on politicians and officials, some of them are not confirmed, of course, but it's out there. They write complete newspaper articles based on that filth. The people in power then may participate in that by piling up dirt on their opponents, but they do not like it when it happens to them.
Mary Glazkova: There are 12 million users, and it seems that most of them are in Moscow. Although there are WhatsApp and Viber, most people are staying with Telegram and trying to use proxy and VPN now. The geography of the Telegram user shows more visitors from the United Kingdom, USA. UU., France and other EU countries, which are actually Russians trying to avoid the ban. Telegram is used for both businesses and staff. Now, those who decided to save $ 50-120 on VPN are using other messengers. I can say that FB Messenger is one of the best to replace Telegram.
How much do you trust in Telegram? How did you experience the blockade and have you discovered a way to avoid it?
AN: Apart from you and some other friends, I do not use it to send messages. I'm in some groups where I talk about technology with friends. I follow some channels about programming, some about technology in general, a couple of politicians and some channels with really cheeky memes. Young people crave non-algorithmic shit, which Telegram has identified with its channels and its memes.
I am using a proxy server that a friend, who has been using it for work, has just opened for the rest of us in a Telegram technology group. A couple of days before the court ruling, most of the Russian Telegram channels began to share and send instructions on how to configure proxies and VPN solutions. Not only technological channels, general interest channels, too. As of now, I am using the proxy, but Telegram seems to work for many people even without it. However, the ISP block has caused Viber calls to go down, which is a big problem in Russia.
MG: The blockade went into effect yesterday, and my friends told me that they experienced problems accessing Gmail and some online stores. I'm using NordVPN and Betterinternet to access Telegram, which I'm not sure is completely legal. People not only tend to trust the application (I'm not sure how many are really interested in privacy), but Telegram is very simple, fast and has a good user interface. (It has stickers. People love stickers!)
You are based in Moscow. What do the local and national media tell you about the ban? Is it great news in the country?
AN: That is the problem. I do not follow local media news organizations. A few that I follow, mention it, and keep updating, and it's also on Twitter. But as for the big government media, I do not follow that. The government media are all a shit of toxic propaganda about Ukraine, Syria, etc. They simply spin what the government wants them to turn around. Why would I want to open my brain to that?
MG: Yes, all the top-level newspapers covered the subject. Actually, I received the message on Telegram from one of the Telegram channels. All media have telegram channels. Had. Now they do not publish.
Do many young Russians receive their news through Telegram channels like this one?
AN: Many people in my circle do not follow national news. They just tweet the news to each other. They are marginalized in the news agenda, so to speak. What they want to talk about and learn is on YouTube, on Twitter, on Telegram, but not on television. There are some independent newspapers, whose websites are more popular than the print edition.
Telegram channels feel more personal, more brazen about the same current events that newspapers argue. And that's what people want, I suppose. Young Russians are more interested in social gossip, such as what rapper slept with what model instead of news and politics. The policy is too remote, they do not feel that there is a legitimate political process to get involved. Memes are the only things worth talking about because they are shits and giggles.
MG: In Moscow, yes, I suppose. For example, there is a channel called Merciless PR Person. It has almost 37,000 followers, and covers public relations scandals, different stories about the public relations problems of major companies, and discusses public relations people in a fun way. I do not read Russian media sites and, of course, I do not buy newspapers here, but the Telegram channels were very useful.
Is that kind of content something that can not be obtained in the regular media, presumably controlled by the state?
AN: The media controlled by the state have people who are aware of everything that happens in the world of memes, but every time they try to commit to it, it is totally lame. And who wants lame? They are not relevant to the younger generation.
MG: Exactly.
Do you think this prohibition will last?
AN: Honestly, I do not know. This prohibition has obviously bothered many people. But when something in Russia bothers ordinary people, it does not matter to people in power at all. The people of Putin's generation prefer that the Internet does not exist at all. As long as it only causes problems for ordinary people, the prohibition will continue.
MG: I would say yes. It's by the courts. You can file an appeal, I suppose, but that takes time for everything to happen.
AN: The taking of my mother: "Thank God repressions are handled by incompetent idiots, my family remembers very well what it was like when they were carried out by professionals".


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