The Signal app appears to be the latest foreign social media service to stop operating in China, where the flow of information is tightly controlled.
The Signal encrypted messaging app appears to have been blocked in mainland China, the latest foreign social media service to cease operating in a country where the government tightly controls the flow of information.
Since Tuesday, app users in China have had to connect to a virtual private network (VPN) that allows them to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall, a censorship system that blocks websites, services and apps deemed inappropriate by the Chinese government. .
The move to silence Signal, one of the few remaining messaging apps in China that has allowed users to engage in encrypted messages, comes as China expands its controls to shape public opinion and sometimes limit the private speech.
Users in China said on Tuesday that they couldn’t get the app’s connection without a VPN service. The messages were not sent and the calls were not successful.
In China, services like Facebook, Google and Twitter have been blocked for years. More recently, the popular social audio platform Clubhouse was also shut down in the country, shortly after Chinese users of the app began taking part in real-time audio chats deemed sensitive by authorities, such as than the massive detentions of Uyghurs in China in Xinjiang.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a daily press briefing on Tuesday that he was “unaware of the situation” around the Signal ban in China.
“What I can tell you is that as a principle, the Internet in China is open, and the Chinese government manages Internet-related affairs according to the law and regulations,” Zhao said.
Signal could not be immediately reached for comment.
Signal uses end-to-end encryption for its messaging and calling services, which prevents any third party from viewing the content of the conversation or listening to calls.
The app has recently become popular among users in China concerned about privacy concerns, although the number of Signal users in the country is still small compared to the ubiquitous messaging app WeChat. WeChat has over a billion users and is a mainstay of daily life in China with its payment services and social media features.
However, politically sensitive messages and content on WeChat are often censored, and authorities have arrested users for spreading rumors online. Messages on WeChat are encrypted only between its servers and user devices, and could in theory be accessed by Tencent, WeChat’s parent company.
To bypass Chinese censorship and access sites like Twitter or Facebook, users in China often use VPN services, although using these services to access blocked services is illegal in the country.