Brazil is in the midst of a WhatsApp blackout, after a court in the country ordered access to the messaging service blocked for 48 hours, starting at midnight on Thursday, local time. A judge in the city of Sao Paulo initiated the blockade on the service, telling Brazil's telecoms companies to stop the use of the country's most popular messaging app, but did not divulge the name of the company or individual responsible for the injunction.
Brazil's companies have tried to stop WhatsApp before
Brazilian telecommunications companies have attempted to halt the stratospheric growth of WhatsApp in the country before, arguing to the government that the messaging app's free calling option is unregulated and illegal, and blaming the service for a marked decrease in people picking up cellphone contracts. Earlier this year, Amos Genish, president of Brazilian telecoms firm Vivo, called WhatsApp "pure piracy," specifying that the service used phone numbers that "belonged" to cellphone providers like his. Until now Brazilian companies have been unsuccessful in their quest to regulate WhatsApp, but today's shutdown may be the beginning of a change of approach from the country's government.
Brazil positioned itself as a champion of net neutrality just a few years ago, passing a landmark internet "Bill of Rights" that restricted online monitoring of its citizens, and embarking on an ambitious plan to separate itself from the American internet in the wake of the NSA spying scandal. But Brazil's Congress, now led by a former lobbyist for Brazil's telecoms companies and dominated by conservatives, is aiming to roll back the internet Bill of Rights, replacing it with a slate of laws that would mean Brazilian citizens will need to enter their tax identification, address, and phone number to use websites and apps. As TechCrunch notes, the proposed laws would let the Brazilian government censor social media, technically allowing politicians to order content removed from Facebook, Twitter, or other services, and to find out exactly who posted it in the first place.
Brazil passed net neutrality laws in 2014
The bill is one of many being proposed that would curtail internet freedoms in Brazil — another, for example, would make taking a picture of an unaware subject and posting it online a crime worth six years in jail — a country with a huge population that has rapidly embraced social media. Already the 48-hour WhatsApp ban has led to a storm of complaints, protests, and memes posted on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services. It's also proved a benefit for WhatsApp's competitors — messaging service Telegram has gained 1 million new Brazilian users in a single day.