The WhatsApp instant messaging service has been blocked for users in North Korea since the second half of December, multiple foreigners living in the city told NK News.
The service, which offers secure end-to-end encryption that makes it difficult for messages and calls to be monitored or intercepted, can now only be accessed by users in North Korea through a virtual private network (VPN) connection, three resident users said.
It’s not clear whether the block of the WhatsApp service is being implemented by North Korean government authorities or if the block is on the service provider side.
One of the foreign residents told NK News on condition of anonymity that local authorities said the block was coming from outside North Korea, but that no evidence had been offered to support the claim.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook and is based in the U.S., did not reply to an NK News request for comment on the status of the service inside North Korea.
“If (the block) is from the WhatsApp side, I presume it’s a result of their interpretation of sanctions and that would be a bit of an own goal for the U.S.,” said Martyn Williams, who runs the North Korea Tech website.
“If it’s from the North Korean side, it’s either because they want to force communications to unencrypted channels, although users will find some other way to communicate,” he continued. “But, it’s difficult to say without more information.”
While the vast majority of North Koreans are prohibited from using the internet, foreign residents and a small minority of local elite citizens are able to access it mostly unhindered using cabled and wireless internet connections.
But unlike in China, where restrictions stop access to a vast number of mostly Western websites and social media services, internet access in the DPRK has historically only focused on blocking a small number of South Korean news websites and a handful of social media services.
As a result, the block of WhatsApp, which comes after Chinese authorities imposed their own restrictions on the service in September 2017, could be indicative of a growing DPRK interest in hampering the flow of information in and out of the country.
Main picture: Pixabay.com
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