Nowhere near as popular around the world as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, Telegram has also seen great progress in the less than five years since its inception, reaching 200 million monthly active users as of this March. But the cloud-based instant messaging service may find it hard to maintain its impressive recent global growth rate of 50 percent annually after a ban imposed by a Russian court in one of Telegram’s largest markets.
In fact, the text, voice and video chat app is so ubiquitous in Russia that local government officials, agencies and even President Vladimir Putin’s press office routinely use it for both formal and informal communications. That hasn’t stopped the Federal Security Service (FSB) from aggressively pursuing access to decrypted messages of users suspected in terrorism cases.
Well known for its secret chat functionality, Telegram couldn’t have complied with the FSB’s repeated requests without compromising its business model and entire approach to protecting privacy. A legal battle ensued, with a fine imposed last October, several appeals denied, and ultimately, a nationwide service restriction dictated by a judge from the Tagansky District Court of Moscow.
Judge Yulia Smolina reportedly needed a measly 18 minutes to reach a verdict, ruling to “immediately” satisfy the demand of Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal executive body responsible for media and telecommunications. Regional “access to Telegram messenger” is to be shut down, and the “technical conditions for the exchange of messages” are no longer to be provided.
For his part, Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, a Russian native whose previous clashes with authorities ended up costing him the CEO role of the nation’s top social media platform, VK, sees no room for a compromise with the FSB and Roskomnadzor. Durov strongly believes “privacy is not for sale”, and “human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed”, which means he’s unlikely to back down in an attempt to reverse today’s ban. Oh, well, there’s always the VPN option.