whatsapp announced(Opens in a new window) the launch of proxy support, which allows users to continue using the service even when their connection has been blocked or terminated by actors such as authoritarian governments.
A proxy effectively acts as an intermediary by passing data between the user and WhatsApp. The move comes after the Iranian regime removed access to the popular messaging app in a bid to stop the organization of protests against Masha Amini(Opens in a new window)the 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by the country’s vice squad.
In a blog post, WhatsApp referenced the government’s internet shutdowns in Iran and said it hoped the proxy would “help people wherever there is a need for secure and reliable communication.”
WhatsApp said the proxy servers are set up by volunteers and organizations “dedicated to helping people communicate freely”. Anyone interested in setting up a proxy server can check out the steps needed to do so here(Opens in a new window).
Users can find proxy servers by searching social media or search engines for “trusted sources” that have created a proxy, WhatsApp added. Once found, users must enter the server name on the app.
The messaging app pointed out that users connected to a proxy will still benefit from end-to-end message encryption, which means WhatsApp, its owner Meta, or proxy server owners cannot read sent messages.
WhatsApp users can enable the proxy by visiting the settings menu in the latest version of the app. Instructions for Android and iOS users are slightly different; you can find a guide here(Opens in a new window).
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A WhatsApp spokesperson said(Opens in a new window) Ars Technica that he had “begun to put [proxy] capacity in the application during the last months of last year”, and that he “regularly consults” with human rights organizations on “issues of freedom of expression and confidentiality”, adding he did when developing the proxy function.
According to independent VPN review site Top10VPN(Opens in a new window)social media blockages in 23 countries last year totaled 26,865 hours, and 710 million people worldwide were affected by social media shutdowns last year.
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