A Brazilian judge has banned WhatsApp in the country for 48 hours, starting this morning at 2:00am.
According to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, whose company owns WhatsApp, more than 100 million Brazilians access the service, which is the single most-used app nationally.
The ban was imposed in relation to a third party, whose name was not revealed by the judge.
According to the Sao Paolo court, “Because WhatsApp did not respond to a court order of July 23, 2015, on August 7, 2015, the company was again notified, with there being a fixed penalty in case of non-compliance. As yet the company did not attend the court order, the prosecution requested the blocking of services for a period of 48 hours, based on the law […], which was granted by Judge Sandra Regina Nostre Marques.”
This “fixed penalty” was a nation-wide blocking of the service for two days.
This blockade comes on the heels of Brazil’s largest telecoms operators lobbying against WhatsApp in August, because it operates using standard mobile numbers, but offers free voice calling.
According to reports, major telcos have referred to WhatsApp as illegal, unregulated and a “pirate operator” – much like the battles that minicab disruptor Uber has been facing in cities around the world, ranging from Sydney to London.
TechCrunch reports that the WhatsApp ban is only the tip of the iceberg: Brazil is facing a widespread legislative drive to limit large swathes of social media content, and increase the government’s ability to spy on citizens.
For instance, an anti-terrorism bill – which has already passed through the House of Representatives and onto the Senate – threatens the right to social movements and protests.
Another bill that is labeled the Big Spy (“O Espião”) by critics would allow politicians to censor social media, and would require American tehcnology ocmpanies like Facebook and Google to provide police with access to their data, under court orders.
This is despite the landmark Bill of Rights approved by President Dilma Rousseff last year, which promises to protect digital free speech, net neutrality and privacy on the web.
The Whatsapp ban has already shown major benefits for chat competitors.
For instance, encrypted chat app Telegram said on Twitter that more than 1.5 million Brazilian users had joined up since the ban came into effect.
1.500.000 and counting, SMS-Gateways overloading. Hang on, your codes are coming! We’ve got all hands on deck to accommodate the crazy load.
— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) December 17, 2015