WhatsApp Ban: Brazil’s Stone Age Move And Facebook’s Faulty Activism


Yet again, authorities in Brazil blocked WhatsApp for another 72 hours. Although the ban has been lifted, but the deed is done.

This is the second time in less than a year Brazil will be blocking WhatsApp against its 100 million citizens who depend on the messaging app to communicate, socialise and do business.

After the lifting of the ban, Mark Zukerberg’s reaction is rather predictable and unhelpful for Facebook, WhatsApp and innocent WhatsApp users

Last year 15th of December, a judge in Brazil ordered the blockage of the messaging service for 48 hours over a legal secrecy with details not really known by Facebook Inc, the company that bought WhatsApp in 2014 nor the general population who are in the dark why they should be shut out of their own app they legally downloaded and use on their own phone.

As a matter of fact, Judge Marcel Maia Montalvao of Sergipe, ordered the arrest and jailing of a Facebook executive who he alleged refused to follow authorities’ orders  to shut down the messenger.

Facebook’s official reaction has not been short of shock describing the ban as ‘extreme’.

However, while WhatsApp simplicity and cost efficient data usage makes it influential among users, the ban might be counterproductive. BlackBerry Messenger, Telegram, Twitter, Skype, Google Hangout and many other apps all allow messaging in one form or the other. Whoever might be the target of the secrecy can switch to any of the mentioned apps to get their message across.

Except all these apps are blocked, the judge might just be flexing his muscle for nothing. It is not clear whether the court’s decision might be directed at WhatsApp for any reason not yet known.

Another problem with this ban is that it exposes the nexus between the government and tech companies. WhatsApp has activated end-to-end encryption for the messaging app with over 1 billion worldwide users. The feature makes all conversation and content shared on WhatsApp inaccessible to anyone except owners of the device. The fact that some government official still think they can have such data is a confirmation that tech companies and policy makers need to talk more.

After the lifting of the ban, Mark Zukerberg’s reaction is rather predictable and unhelpful for Facebook, WhatsApp and innocent WhatsApp users, hear him:

“WhatsApp is now back online in Brazil! Your voices have been heard once again. Thank you to our community for helping resolve this. That said, the idea that everyone in Brazil can be denied freedom to communicate the way they want is very scary in a democracy. You and your friends can help make sure this never happens again, and I hope you get involved. Brazilians have been leaders in connecting the world and creating an open internet for many years. I hope you make your voice heard now and demand change”

The problem with Mark’s statement is that his virtual activism cannot prevent the government from taking such a stone-age decision again. Facebook is not a charity neither is it Greenpeace. Facebook needs to engage government in Brazil and any other country where people are been shut out of their right not just WhatsApp.

While end-to-end encryption has prevent governments from having acess to user data, outright and time to time shutdown is a very effective strategy by any government to make the app useless entirely

Brazil In A Perfect Storm

Brazil has been in a tensed political setting as its President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment over her use of ‘creative accounting’ to increase government spending. Opposition alleged that the strategy gave her undue advantage during the election year.

Her closeness to Lula Da Silva, Brazil’s former president who is facing corruption charges has also exacerbated her problems. The inkling that she might be shielding him from trial has compounded her problems, further emboldening her critics.

The country has also been cracking down on corruption. Petrobras, Brazil’s largest corporation with state ownership and involvement has already been dragged into the investigation. The company posted a net loss of USD 10.2 billion. The largest in the company’s history. It is planning to cut 12,000 jobs through voluntary redundancy.

Brazil will be hosting this year’s Olympics. The concatenation these problems and social turmoil might be a time bomb waiting to explode under further stress.

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