WhatsApp’s looking to help keep people connected, even amid government-mandated communication disruptions, by adding proxy support for WhatsApp users, which enables you to choose a proxy server to remain connected, even if your local network goes down.
WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart shared this example of the process in Iranian:
As per WhatsApp:
“Choosing a proxy enables you to connect to WhatsApp through servers set up by volunteers and organizations around the world dedicated to helping people communicate freely. Connecting via proxy maintains the high level of privacy and security that WhatsApp provides. Your personal messages will still be protected by end-to-end encryption - ensuring they stay between you and the person you’re communicating with and are not visible to anyone in between, not the proxy servers, WhatsApp, or Meta.”
WhatsApp, which is the most popular messaging platform in the world, often serves as a critical communications channel in times of crisis. But as more governments and security organizations seek to control information flow, in various ways, it can also be disrupted, cutting people off from essential updates.
Of course, those governments also likely aren’t happy with WhatsApp effectively adding backdoor access in the case of blocks and restrictions. But in Meta’s view, this is an important service, because of such efforts.
“Our wish for 2023 is that these internet shutdowns never occur. Disruptions like we’ve seen in Iran for months on end deny people’s human rights and cut people off from receiving urgent help. Though in case these shutdowns continue, we hope this solution helps people wherever there is a need for secure and reliable communication.”
The Iranian Government could, of course, look to ban WhatsApp completely, which is another risk that WhatsApp’s now facing (though that wouldn’t impact those who’ve already downloaded the app), but it makes sense for WhatsApp to provide more access options for such situations, in order to keep people connected in times of crisis.
Meta’s moves to expand messaging encryption have also raised the hackles of many government and security elements, and it’s interesting to see the company continue to stand up in the face of such strong opposition, putting them at higher risk of regulation and/or restriction.
Though the debate over encryption has been raging for years, and for all the talk, Meta has continued to push ahead with its plans – though it has slowed the roll-out to allow for more debate.
At some stage, these discussions could lead to bigger problems for Meta’s business. But in this particular case, standing on principle, in order to allow free and open exchange, seems like the right side to be on.
You can learn more about setting up a WhatsApp proxy server here.