‘Tens of millions’ of people secretly use WhatsApp in countries where it is banned – including China and North Korea, messaging platform’s boss reveals

With an estimated two billion active users per month, WhatsApp is the most popular mobile messenger app in the world.

But it appears many of the platform’s users are in countries where it has been controversially banned, such as China and North Korea.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp at Meta, said “tens of millions” of people in these countries are using tech workarounds to secretly access the chat app.

An example of this is virtual private networks (VPNs), which make it appear as if users are connected to the Internet in a different location.

However, China recently stepped up its campaign against WhatsApp by removing it from Apple’s App Store.

WhatsApp is the most popular mobile messenger app in the world with approximately two billion active users per month, according to Statista

WhatsApp is blocked in China, North Korea, Syria and Qatar, while the app’s features are severely limited in Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

β€œWe have a lot of anecdotal reports from people using WhatsApp (in these countries),” Cathcart said BBC news.

“You’d be surprised how many people realize it.”

According to the tech boss, WhatsApp employees can see where users are by looking at their registered phone number, which has the telltale international country codes on the front.

β€œWhat we can do is look at some of the countries where we see blocks and still see tens of millions of people connecting to WhatsApp,” he said.

In China, the government has blocked WhatsApp since 2017, although VPNs have since provided people in the country with a potential loophole.

People visiting China will need to set up a VPN to access WhatsApp there, as well as other banned Meta apps like Facebook and Instagram.

However, last month the Chinese government ordered Apple to remove WhatsApp from the Chinese App Store, making it even harder for people to use it.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp at Meta (pictured), said

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp at Meta (pictured), said “tens of millions” of people in these countries are using tech solutions to secretly access the chat app

China has also ordered Apple to remove Threads, Meta’s social network that is similar to Elon Musk’s Platform X.

The tech giant said it was forced to do so by the Chinese government’s Cyberspace Administration of China, which cited national security concerns.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China has ordered the removal of these apps from the Chinese storefront based on their national security concerns,” Apple said in a statement.

“We are obliged to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even if we disagree with them.”

It is unclear whether WhatsApp is still accessible on the Google Play Store for Android smartphones in China and Meta has declined to comment further.

Cathcart called China’s decision to remove WhatsApp “unfortunate,” but added that the country has never been a big market for the app.

China – known for its tight control over its citizens’ lives – is instead favoring WeChat, owned by Shenzhen-developed tech giant Tencent.

The ‘Great Firewall of China’ has become the catch-all term for Chinese legislation that blocks internet services in the country.

WhatsApp for the first time lets users connect to the messaging app through proxy servers, so users can stay online even if the internet is shut down or blocked

WhatsApp for the first time lets users connect to the messaging app through proxy servers, so users can stay online even if the internet is shut down or blocked

Proxy servers are intermediate gateways between users and web servers that allow them to go online

Proxy servers are intermediate gateways between users and web servers that allow them to go online

And under Chinese law, companies can be forced to “support, cooperate and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.”

Cathcart also said that WhatsApp’s proxy service, which launched last year, has kept the app accessible in countries with internet shutdowns, such as Iran.

Internet shutdowns are intentional disruptions of internet access and digital communications, often done by governments to silence dissidents online.

The boss described his efforts to bring instant messaging to people bound by “authoritarian governments” as “an ongoing struggle.”

β€œWe take great pride in providing secure, private communications that are free from surveillance by authoritarian governments, or even government censorship, to people around the world who would not otherwise have them,” he said. .

BEST WHATSAPP ALTERNATIVES

If you’re considering uninstalling WhatsApp, you’ll be happy to know that there are several alternative apps you can choose from:

1. Telegram

With over 400 million users, Telegram is one of the most popular WhatsApp alternatives.

Although it is very similar to WhatsApp, it differs in that it offers the option to set messages to self-destruct after a certain period of time, without leaving any traces.

Telegram also offers end-to-end encryption.

But as a WhatsApp spokesperson noted, Telegram “doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default, so it’s not necessarily more secure than WhatsApp.”

2. Signal

Signal is one of the most secure messaging apps, thanks to the fact that it is open source.

This means that the code for the app is publicly available to view, making it virtually impossible for the app’s creators to sneak in backdoors that allow governments or hackers to spy on your messages.

3. iMessage

If you’re using an iPhone, consider simply switching to iMessage, Apple’s own messaging app.

The app has some impressive features, including no character limits, the ability to send photos and videos, and of course Apple’s animated emoji feature, Animoji.

Unfortunately, iMessage is only available for iPhone users, so you’ll struggle to communicate with someone using an Android.

4. Google Posts

Google’s answer to iMessage is Google Messages, an Android-only messaging service.

The app replaces your standard texting app and integrates with all Google apps and services, making it easy to share images or use Google Assistant.

5. Facebook Messenger

If you’re put off using WhatsApp due to data sharing with Facebook, Facebook Messenger may not be the best option for you.

However, the app offers some useful features including games, secret conversations and video calls.