A mere six months ago, the media painted Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, as a hero who “took on the Kremlin and won” when he rejected Russian security services’ demand to allow them access to content on the encrypted messaging app.
At the time, Telegram was described favorably as the app of choice of Russian opposition groups. But these days, what some might easily describe as “opposition groups” are referred to as “angry conservatives” – and Durov and his fellow privacy and free speech enthusiast, Signal founder Brian Acton, are starting to be treated as their enablers.
While such reports explain what these apps do – provide secure and encrypted communication channels, while not reaching for user tracking and censoring – they also draw some worrying conclusions about them, that might be signaling they could become the next target for censors.
For example, Harry Fernandez, who heads a non profit “tracking online hate speech” called Change the Terms, seems to be struggling with the concept of end-to-end encryption and privacy, when he says Signal and Telegram are “dangerous” because they are unable to police content and users, in his words – they “appear not to have any infrastructure” for such an operation. “They appear to be at this moment welcoming hateful users who’ve been kicked off other platforms or been made to feel unwelcome on other platforms,” he said.
Another reason these apps are dangerous, according to him, is that users banned or suppressed elsewhere are free to use them. In general, the message pushed by many old media outlets now is that these apps should somehow vet their users, and allow only a select group of “activists and journalists” to enjoy the benefits of encrypted apps that protect them from government and law enforcement overreach and spying, while denying access to others.
The fact that yet another of Facebook’s privacy-invasive actions around the new WhatsApp privacy settings is considered to be the main driver behind the huge recent growth of both Signal and Telegram does not appear convincing to these media critics.
In the June report praising Durov’s outfoxing of Russian regulators, the Washington Post said this was possible thanks to “a combination of wily cyber-dodging tactics and the force of Telegram’s growing reach.”
Here’s hoping the same will be true should another actor come after this and other similar platforms.