Why Telegram Voice Calls Are Blocked in Countries Like China or IranPavel Durov
As you may have heard, we have recently launched encrypted voice calls for Telegram. They are super-easy to use and improve themselves over time using machine learning.
Personally, I rarely make voice calls. When I lived in Russia, I developed the habit of never speaking over the phone, as every conversation was being recorded by corrupt law enforcement agencies. This habit stayed with me even after I left Russia a few years ago. I don't expect agencies in other countries to have more respect for privacy than their Russian counterparts: they're the same everywhere, some are just better at marketing.
My phone habits may change now that I use secure calls via Telegram to communicate with my team and family members. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world will be able to enjoy the same.
In countries like Saudi Arabia, Telegram traffic is throttled in order to discourage usage. In others, like China and Oman, it's blocked completely. In Iran, where Telegram has some 40 million active users, Telegram voice calls have been completely blocked by the country's internet providers and mobile operators following an order from the judiciary (more about this here).
Telegram has historically had problems with regulators in some parts of the world because, unlike other services, we consistently defended our users' privacy and have never made any deals with governments. In three and a half years of existence to date, Telegram disclosed exactly zero bytes of users' data to any third-party.
Services like WhatsApp, on the other hand, are not blocked in China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or other countries with a history of censorship. This is the case because WhatsApp (and its parent company Facebook) are eager to trade user trust for an increased market share. Their claim that “WhatsApp and third parties can’t read or listen to your WhatsApp messages and calls” – is completely false. WhatsApp actually can read and listen in to your calls and messages, as they are able to invisibly change the encryption keys for 99.99% of their users (read more about this backdoor-disguised-as-a-feature here).
Moreover, third parties like Google or Apple have direct access to most of WhatsApp's users' chat history. This is because WhatsApp tricked the majority of users into allowing third party not end-to-end encrypted backups. And the sharing doesn't stop with just these third parties. Apple and Google in turn have to deal with data requests from all the countries they have business in, and so the data flows. As for your metadata from WhatsApp, it is already being sold to advertisers by Facebook inc.
By claiming that their service is secure, WhatsApp may be involved in the single largest case of consumer fraud in human history.
By comparison, Telegram relies on end-to-end encryption assisted by a built-in encrypted and distributed cloud for messages and media. The relevant decryption keys are split into parts and are spread across different jurisdictions. This structure makes your cloud data a hundred times more protected and secure than when it is stored by Google, Facebook, or Apple.
No wonder governments and regulators are unhappy with Telegram. Well, let them block us as much as they want. We won't change our principles or betray our users. I know it’s not great to have Telegram (or parts of it) restricted in your country. But sometimes it’s better to stop using a communication service entirely than to keep using it with misplaced trust in its security.
It's why I avoided voice calls for years, in Russia and beyond. It's also why I'm coming back to them now, on Telegram.