The Russian government this week blocked 16 million IP addresses belonging to Amazon and Google because the Telegram instant messaging app was using them to avoid being blocked by the Russian government.
Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging service developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov. The app has a built-in feature that redirects traffic to bypass government blocks, making it available to most Russians despite Moscow’s best efforts to stop it.
“Google hasn’t complied with Roskomnadzor requests and, despite a court ruling, keeping allowing Telegram Messenger to use its IP addresses to operate in Russia,” announced Roskomnadzor, a federal watchdog responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications. “Therefore, Roskomnadzor included some Google IP addresses into a register of banned Internet resources.”
Moscow decided to block access to Telegram in mid-April after a Russian court ruled against Telegram for refusing to give the Federal Security Service access to the correspondence of terrorism suspects. Telegram explained that because all chats are encrypted on users’ devices, it couldn’t give the government access even if it wanted to. Moscow demanded that Telegram rewrite the app, and Telegram refused.
Roskomnadzor then ordered Russian ISPs to block IP addresses that used Telegram, but since Telegram utilizes cloud services provided by Amazon and Google, all regulators saw were addresses belonging to Amazon and Google.
The result was a massive block on 16 million IP addresses that impacted over 100 companies and failed to restrict users’ access to Telegram. The legal advocacy organization Agora received complaints from 73 companies and plans to sue Roskomnadzor on their behalf.
“As long as Telegram has access to the considerable resources of Amazon and Google, completely blocking it will be difficult,” reports The Daily Beast. “If Roskomnadzor blocks a particular IP address or domain, Telegram can move to another.”
Telegram currently has more than 200 million users throughout the world, and the ordeal with Moscow seems to have attracted more business. In addition to text messaging, the Telegram app supports channels that function as a safe space for people to discuss a range of topics (including political protest). Telegram’s channels attracted government displeasure and played a key role in Moscow’s decision to take such drastic measures against the app.
Russia’s Federal Security Service claims it has “reliable information” that terrorists used Telegram to organize the attack in St. Petersburg which killed 15 people last spring. “The ability to share information in more public channels while conducting secure chats all in one place is as attractive to them as it is to anti-corruption activists,” notes The Daily Beast.
Author’s Note: This story is a stark reminder that Russia – despite its conversion to a mostly capitalist economy – still has an authoritarian government that can do whatever it wants. Russia is not a totalitarian government like Beijing, but its people still do not have free political speech like we do in the US.