WhatsApp adds proxy support to tackle internet shutdowns

We're launching proxy server support for WhatsApp users all over the world, says the tech giant.
Baba Tamim
WhatsApp logo displayed on a phone screen.
WhatsApp logo displayed on a phone screen.

Getty Images 

WhatsApp users can now connect using proxy servers to stay online even if the internet is blocked or otherwise interfered with by clampdowns, the Meta has revealed. 

WhatsApp, the social networking platform with two billion users worldwide, announced its new year's present on Thursday for users "who continue to be denied the ability to reach their loved ones because of internet shutdowns."

"We're launching proxy support for WhatsApp users all over the world. What this means is we're putting the power into people's hands to maintain access to WhatsApp if their connection is blocked or disrupted," read the social media company's blog

"Choosing a proxy enables you to connect to WhatsApp through servers set up by volunteers and organizations around the world dedicated to helping people communicate freely."

"The high level of privacy and security" that WhatsApp claims to offer will remain unaffected by the usage of proxy servers. 

"Your personal messages and calls will still be protected by end-to-end encryption," said the tech giant. 

"This means they stay between you and the person you're communicating with and won't be visible to anyone in between, not even the proxy servers, WhatsApp, or Meta."

Internet blackouts in Iran prompt WhatsApp

Internet shutdowns in Iran are believed to be affecting "84 million" people. 

"We, the members of the Freedom Online Coalition, are deeply alarmed by and strongly condemn the measures undertaken by Iran to restrict access to the Internet following the nationwide protests over the tragic killing of Mahsa Amini," the U.S. Department of State said in a statement in October 2022. 

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Since December 2018, Iran has had approximately a dozen shutdowns that lasted anything from 15 minutes to 12 days, according to the global anti-outage organization #KeepItOn.

"Our wish for 2023 is that these internet shutdowns never occur. Disruptions, like we've seen in Iran for months on end deny people's human rights and cut people off from receiving urgent help," stated WhatsApp's Thursday blog. 

"Though in case these shutdowns continue, we hope this solution helps people wherever there is a need for secure and reliable communication."

On September 21, 2022, a crackdown on WhatsApp and Instagram began in Iran, reported WIRED.

While cutting off mobile connections is extremely disruptive, Instagram and WhatsApp were some of the only social media platforms still accessible in Iran.

Protests in Iran gained global traction after Mahsa Amini, 22, died in the custody of the Iranian "morality police." And since then, there have been multiple reports of internet blockades in the country. 

Global Internet blockade 

The U.N. Human Rights Office said in a 2022 report that the catastrophic real-life effects of Internet shutdowns on people's lives and human rights had been greatly underestimated.

"Too often, major communication channels or entire communication networks are slowed down or blocked," said the report. 

 Restricting "thousands or even millions of people of their only means of reaching loved ones, continuing their work or participating in political debates or decisions."

According to the analysis citing the #KeepItOn coalition, which tracks shutdown incidents throughout the world, there were 931 shutdowns between 2016 and 2021 in 74 nations, with some of those governments regularly and for extended periods of time restricting communications.

In the first half of 2022, out of the ten countries where internet interruptions were reported, India was responsible for up to 85 percent of the shutdowns.

While Inda-administered Kashmir experienced the most internet clampdowns, there were widespread internet shutdowns, as per reports. 

According to research by internet monitoring group NetBlocks and VPN provider Surfshark, Asia was the continent with the greatest censorship in 2022.