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Popular messaging app Telegram booted out of Iran for refusing to spy on users

Popular messaging app Telegram Messenger has been blocked in Iran, after refusing to hand over private data to the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

The maker of Telegram, Pavel Durov, said that the ministry asked for “spying and censorship tools.” When Durov refused, Iran quickly blocked the service. Telegram offers end-to-end encryption, meaning it cannot provide backdoors to government departments.

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An Iranian official claims that Telegram was not blocked by the government, but sources inside of Iran confirmed that the messaging service is no longer available. The service was very popular in the country, and allowed users to discuss politically sensitive topics.

This is not the first time Durov has dealt with censorship abuse. As the creator of Russian social network VK, he was asked plenty of times to hand over information to the government. Durov was booted out of VK, despite having created the firm, in 2014, and he claimed that it was taken over by Vladimir Putin’s allies.

Iran has said previously that it requires technology companies to adhere to the country’s cultural rules and policies, which include handing over information to the government. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are all blocked in the country.

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Even with the hardline Internet censorship, Iran’s younger generation seem to be heavy Internet users. It is one of the largest markets for VPNs and proxy services. Over 60 percent of its citizens are under 35 years old, and reports claim Western brands are becoming more popular every year.

The launch of iPhones in the country could represent a massive culture change, letting users gain access to encrypted devices that the government cannot control. Unless Apple decides to bow to the Iranian demands, this may allow millions of Iranian citizens the chance to truly be free from government censorship.