Telegram, one of WhatsApp’s biggest rivals, will be officially available again in Russia, after allegedly reaching an agreement with the government against ‘terrorist’ content.
It is a decision that is considered a serious defeat for the Russian government, which has been unable to implement the ban against the app it imposed in 2018; Telegram, founded by Russians Nikolai and Pavel Durov, refused to give out the encryption keys with which communications on its network are encrypted.
It is thanks to this policy that Telegram is especially popular with more privacy-aware users; but it has also attracted many groups that take advantage of it to spread hoaxes and share illegal content.
The strange history of Telegram in Russia
Russia accused Telegram of allowing users considered “extremists” by the government, and required the keys to be able to spy on and capture them. Since the denial, Telegram is officially banned in Russia, but no one would believe it.
Not only is Telegram still used in Russia, but it is the most widely used messaging app in the country. The authorities have had serious difficulties in blocking access to the service, going so far as to block a multitude of IP addresses without much success. In fact, some connection problems suffered by Russian citizens in recent years were the result of these actions.
The current situation was somewhat strange, since even the government itself has official accounts on Telegram, a service that in theory it could not use; for example, as part of the action against the coronavirus, an official channel was opened to publish news and advice for the population.
This is what finally forced the Roskomnadzor, the highest authority on telecommunications, to back down.
Telegram will help block ‘extremist’ content
In recent days, several government agencies have called for a reconsideration of the Telegram ban, as they wanted to create (or had already created) official accounts on the platform.
Faced with the issue of having to ask for the closure of these official accounts, the Roskomnadzor had no choice but to allow the use of Telegram again on a national level.
However, the Russian government is presenting this change of heart as a victory for its objectives against those it considers to be terrorists and extremists; the agency has assured that it has only made this decision after Pavel Durov, Telegram’s CEO, has shown willingness to help them pursue these types of activities.
In fact, a few weeks ago Durov announced that Telegram had developed new methods to detect and delete content on its platform, despite the aforementioned obstacle of encryption. It is very likely that this is what the Russian agency was referring to.