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China takes WhatsApp messaging service offline
WhatsApp has been blocked in China, as the government appears to be cracking down on the Facebook-owned messaging app ahead of the Communist party congress next month.
 
The messaging app, which has more than a billion users worldwide and protects messages with end-to-end encryption, has not been available since Sunday. WhatsApp is the only Facebook product to operate relatively unhindered in China. 
 
The service has been disrupted several times in the past few months, with many users complaining they have been unable to send videos and images without using a virtual private network which circumvents China’s “Great Firewall”. But the service has not previously been taken entirely offline and has usually returned to normal in quick time. 
 
The move is a setback for Facebook which has been exploring ways to expand in the country, where Chinese censors have blocked the use of the social network since 2009 and its Instagram photo sharing app since 2014. WhatsApp did not comment. 
 
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and chief executive, visited China last year, meeting Liu Yunshan, China’s propaganda chief, and posting photos of himself running in the Beijing smog. 
 
Facebook has not commented on individual reports, such as a story that it is seeking a Shanghai office, or allowing the Colourful Balloons photo-sharing app to mimic its Moments app, a move analysts said was possibly a sign of Facebook testing the water with the product in China. 
 
But a Facebook spokesperson has said: “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways.” 
 
China has its own thriving ecosystem of social networks, with messaging dominated by Tencent-owned WeChat. But activists and foreign companies have long favoured WhatsApp because of its end-to-end encryption, which means the company does not have the keys with which to decrypt and expose private messages, even if it came under pressure from a government or law enforcement official to do so. 
 
The disruption comes as China is seeking greater control over how the internet is used within its borders, from a new cyber security law that came into effect in June, to efforts to scrub the internet of references to Liu Xiaobo, a prominent political activist, in July. 
 

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