Quite recently (in April), Telegram has been banned/blocked in Russia for refusal to give up encryption keys to Russian agencies. Telegram's defence was built around the fact that they don't even have the encryption keys for their end-to-end encrypted secret chats, naturally, and while the ordinary chats are only client-server encrypted, the encryption keys and data are stored in different places under different jurisdictions, as per Pavel Durov's blog post.

WhatsApp, however, uses E2EE by default in all chats, so even WhatsApp servers and anyone else doesn't have access to the messages... unless there's a backdoor, which we can do nothing about, or secret services just use the backups from iCloud/Google Drive (which would give them access to everyone's messages anyway).

So why the selective ban? Is it somehow related to Telegram in particular, or maybe the people behind it?

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    You may want to ask at security.se if they are technically the same, my understanding is WhatsApp messages can be silently read by a malicious update.
    – user9389
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 14:25
  • Comments deleted. Please don't try to answer the question using comments. If you want to answer, write a real answer which adheres to our quality standards.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 8:28

3 Answers 3

  1. Telegram is a lot more popular in Russia compared to Whatsapp within the opposition circles. It is used by many people whom the Russian government wants to keep track of, as evidenced by the fact that two factor authentication was added as a response to hacking attempts against Russian activists.

  2. Telegram was founded by an opposition activist Pavel Durov who openly opposes the Russian government.

  3. Telegram itself has declared numerous times that it will not under any circumstances provide message logs from its users to any authorities. WhatsApp is far more neutral in their policies.

China only blocked WhatsApp in September 2017 (Telegram was blocked since the very beginning) so it's possible that Russia will follow up with a ban on WhatsApp too, albeit at a later time.

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    Do you have a source for that statistic in your first point? Regarding your second point, Telegram doesn't constitue a major slice of Telegram's users (14%? something like that), and not that it'd matter - Telegram gains no profit from its users. WhatsApp may not openly say they won't give in to authorities, but that doesn't cancel the fact that the encryption they use is independently verified to be very secure (unlike Telegram, by the way). I expect something like an official statement from the Russians, or maybe something that'd say WhatsApp has a backdoor. Commented May 15, 2018 at 14:35
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    @Gallifreyan it's not about 2-FA per se, it's about the context in which it was added. Russian hackers used the government to force a local operator to divert text messages to a different phone, and as a result gained access to an opposition members Telegram account. 2-FA was immediately added by Telegram as a response to that. Commented May 15, 2018 at 14:44
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    @Gallifreyan "Telegram doesn't constitue a major slice of Telegram's users"?
    – nic
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 5:32
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    @nic Russia doesn't constitute a major slice of Telegram's users, of course ;) Commented May 16, 2018 at 15:36
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    @Evargalo No, more neutral. Refusing to provide data on request very likely is in violation of russian law, so it's an act of active opposition. Complying with the law is the 'neutral' position (regardless of whether or not you think the law is fair, just or even at all a good idea in general).
    – Cubic
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 12:39

The formal reason for the ban is Telegram's refusal to collaborate with the FSB in decrypting or tracking the messages of a purported terrorist group. (Sources: Bloomberg, court order)

Quoting Roskomnadzor (i.e. the Internet censorship department) itself:

On the basis of Art. 15.4 of Federal Law No. 149-FZ "On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection" Roskomnadzor sent a notice to Telegram Messenger Limited about the need to fulfill the responsibilities for communication services.

In accordance with Art. 10.1 of Law No. 149-FZ, these responsibilities are to provide the federal executive body in the field of security (the FSB of Russia) with the information necessary to decode received, transmitted, delivered and (or) processed electronic messages.

The fact that Telegram Messenger Limited did not fulfill the lawful requirements was confirmed by the decision of the justice of the peace in Judicial Section No. 383 of Meshchansky District of Moscow in case No. 5-1794 / 2017 of October 16, 2017, which entered into force on December 12, 2017.

In accordance with Part 1 of Art. 15.4 of Law No. 149-FZ, the above duties must be fulfilled within 15 days from the receipt of this notice.

March 20, 2018

In other words, some "terrorists" purportedly used Telegram to exchange messages and Telegram refused to "collaborate" with the FSB in decrypting those messages. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has not been (yet) held accountable for such "recalcitrance".

The likely real reasons behind the ban have already been nicely explained in the other answer.

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    IIRC, Durov debunked this: according to him, only one of the phone numbers they were interested in had an account, and even that has not been used for 6 months and deleted for inactivity. Commented May 15, 2018 at 18:35
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    @Gallifreyan My answer is only meant to provide the official/legal stance on the matter taken by the government. I will not be surprised if the case was fully fabricated and furthermore, I personally strongly oppose the ban, as well as any other infringements of the freedom of speech routinely conducted by our government. However, I cannot deny the possibility of Durov not being fully transparent on it, either. He is a shrewd businessman, and he is losing a lot of customers and money due to the ban.
    – William K
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 18:43
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    @Gallifreyan You keep bringing up that stat but I don't understand its relevance. The point is that more people use Telegram than WhatsApp in Russia, which makes it more of an issue to the Russian government. I don't know if that's true but whether Russian residents are a large part of Telegram's or WhatsApp's user base is neither here nor there, it's the wrong denominator.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 19:12
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    @Gallifreyan Are you saying that's not the case? Personally, I have no idea but that's an entirely different point than the one you have been making, that's all I wanted to point out.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 20:15
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    I love how political bodies are dense enough to think "it's mathematically impossible to do what you want" means "I refuse to help do what you want".
    – aroth
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 10:40

I wouldn't go as far as calling Durov an "opposition activist", rather a victim. He's being persecuted by Russian government since 2014, when he refused to hand over data of Ukrainian protesters to Russia's security agencies and block Alexei Navalny's page on VKontakte, an online social network he founded. As a result, he was dismissed as CEO of VK (which he claims was a result of VK being taken over by Putin's allies), left Russia and obtained Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship.

Since Telegram is also founded by Durov, I suppose the selective Telegram ban in Russia is indeed related to this continued persecution.

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    This answer shifts attention from product, "Telegram", to its creator, Durov. It is worth nothing that real enemies of the Russian regime quite often slurp some Polonium, sniff some "Novichok", die of heart attack in their early 40's, or simply get shot 200 meters away from the Kremlin wall. If Durov were posed any threat to the regime, he would barely survive till today. Commented May 17, 2018 at 9:40
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    @bytebuster Perhaps there's an internal Kremlin regulation on the matter, stating that offenders who dared to run for presidency or uncovered a spy get poisoned, while those who wouldn't remove an opposition blog from their website get a milder punishment. Commented May 17, 2018 at 11:32
  • @bytebuster You just wait for it :D Commented May 17, 2018 at 17:50

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