1. 22
  1.  

  2. 13

    A small nitpick (and mostly regarding the title, since the article is correct), but they weren’t shut down. They were blocked. The effect to the user may be the same, but as an interested observer, I’m very interested in the difference between a Brazilian judge blocking my website vs shutting it down.

    This bugs me quite a bit, now that I’ve thought about it. A headline that says “blocked” would be correct, more informative, and shorter. You can do better, Intercept. You should do better.

    1. 4

      The author himself lives in Brazil so he is living this event right now; this piece in particular felt more emotional than the others.

    2. 11

      I’m brazilian.

      The first case I remember of this happening was in 2007, when a brazilian actress was filmed having sex in a beach in Europe and that video was posted to YouTube many times. She sued (in Brazil) and some judge took YouTube down for one or two days.

      At the time (if I remember correctly) it was implemented as some sort of DNS change, and those of us that used custom DNS servers could visit the site. I was able to help a few of my friends.

      This time the WhatsApp servers seem to have been blacklisted. I’m not sure about port blocking or packet inspection. It was most likely a small change just to block the majority of the population that doesn’t know how to circumvent.

      It is also interesting to remember a few facts:

      1) The cellphone service providers in Brazil (Oi, Vivo, Tim, Claro) are also the largest fixed internet providers for the country;

      2) These companies have seen a lot of profits vanish due to the overwhelming use of WhatsApp by the users (titles were translated by me):

      Why brazilian providers are in war with WhatsApp http://epocanegocios.globo.com/Informacao/Dilemas/noticia/2015/12/por-que-operadoras-brasileiras-entraram-em-guerra-contra-o-whatsapp.html

      Brazil loses 10 million cell lines due to ‘WhatsApp Effect’ http://link.estadao.com.br/noticias/empresas,brasil-perde-10-milhoes-de-linhas-de-celular-por-culpa-do-efeito-whatsapp,10000028765

      To stop WhatsApp, providers ask for conservative regulation http://www.tribunadabahia.com.br/2016/01/02/para-frear-whatsapp-operadoras-pedem-regulamentacao-conservadora

      Providers have lost US$ 13.9 billion due to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and similar apps https://tecnoblog.net/91908/operadoras-whatsapp-facebook/

      3) These same companies own the majority of market share for cable TV and were recently pushing HARD for data caps to prevent YouTube and Netflix from stealing more profits from them;

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this judge turned out to be friends with some of those companies.

      I’m not too familiar with the US market, but I think this corporativist agreement between large companies and the State is a problem we all we’ll have to deal with if we want the Internet to stay (relatively) free.

      1. 5

        The downsides of being dependent upon a centralized system owned by a single corporation.

        1. 3

          I mean, I guess, but most federated or p2p protocols are amenable to filtering by port number or packet inspection. Tor’s strategy with obfuscated bridges and pluggable transports is certainly the current most advanced play in that arms race, but that’s really heavyweight for casual users of a chat service.

          Centralization definitely has its downside, but I don’t think it would have made a difference this time if WhatsApp were federated with a published protocol and many providers.

          1. 10

            It’s technically possible to shut down federated protocols, but I don’t think would have happened in this case. The Brazilian courts aren’t sanctioning WhatsApp the service, but WhatsApp the company, which is failing to comply with a subpoena. Ignoring a court order allows the court (as in most countries) to find the company in contempt of court and apply sanctions. With a domestic company, contempt of court would probably not lead to their service being blocked, instead it would involve methods such as jailing an executive until they comply. But since courts lack physical control over foreign companies, contempt of court sanctions instead tend to be things like blocking importation; if they were a traditional importer, WhatsApp would’ve found their goods impounded at customs. So this is just an effect of WhatsApp the company being in contempt of court and therefore having import sanctions slapped on them until they comply, not a finding that WhatsApp the service is illegal or should be blocked on its own merits.

            In a distributed system, the courts wouldn’t issue a subpoena against the network in general, but against specific operators, which would make for a different situation.

            1. 4

              I suppose that’s true. A singe legal point of failure, rather than a single technical one.

              I only realized belatedly, since the article is far more focused on the impact of the downtime, but the substantive issue in this case appears to be the same “should encryption be legal” debate that’s happening all over right now. I suppose that doesn’t change any of the above, though.

            2. 4

              In the case of a federated protocols, the judge presumably would go after the service provider. So, instead of the entirety of WhatsApp service being blocked, it would be the individual provider for the suspect. Presumably, other individuals using other providers wouldn’t be affected.