End-to-end-encrypted messaging app Signal is secure. So secure, in fact, that it’s the European Union’s encrypted messaging app of choice.
Unfortunately, it’s also secure enough that it’s gotten on the wrong side of the Chinese government. China has reportedly banned the app in mainland China as of March 16, TechCrunch reports. This is one day after its website was blocked in the country.
The app is, as of now, still available to download in the Chinese App Store. It has an average review of 4.9/5, based on 37,000 ratings. That suggests that Apple hasn’t yet been given — or hasn’t yet complied with — orders to remove the Signal app from being available for download. But China has seemingly blocked the app from working.
This is just the latest in a series of bans of encrypted messaging apps within China. It has previously blocked WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and other services, alongside social networks like Twitter.
Perhaps most controversially, in late 2019 Apple booted out an app used by protesters in Hong Kong called Hkmap Live. This app used reports from a Telegram group to track the whereabouts of police and protesters.
Ban is a badge of honor?
TechCrunch writes that:
“In some way, a ban is a badge of honor, signifying a foreign app has reached a substantial user base in China that catches the attention of local authorities.”
Apple, for its part, makes decisions about the apps it wants to allow in the App Store. For example, it banned social media apps like the right-wing Parler when it found the content being shared on it unpalatable.But it has also been in favor of encryption, which it even went head-to-head against the FBI to defend. Unlike Parler, Signal does not have an ideological bent to it. Instead, it’s likely that simply being non-scrutinizable due to its strong encryption was enough to upset the Chinese government.
It will be interesting to hear whether Apple CEO Tim Cook has anything to say on the matter when he speaks at the Chinese government-organized China Development Forum this weekend. Cook will address the topic of China on a New Journey Toward Modernization. Some pundits may also expect Cook to address reports that China is trying to get around Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14.