Using Telegram, a secure instant messaging app, in Iran is becoming more difficult. The company behind the software has catered to pressure from the Iranian government to curtail certain of the app’s features.
Telegram bills itself as “a new era of messaging.” Designed to be cross-platform, free and fast, Telegram provides security and privacy features that include full encryption, with encryption keys updated on a regular basis to protect data from past conversations.
Telegram users can also choose to send self-destructing messages, which delete themselves at a specified time, and they can open secret chats that delete conversation data from all devices after a chat ends. Secret chats also notify all participants in a conversation if one chat user takes a screenshot of the chat — although this feature can be guaranteed to work only when all parties to a chat are using an official Telegram client.
Those privacy features help set Telegram — which is also partially open source — apart from other major instant-messaging services, like WhatsApp. Other services provide basic privacy tools, but do not make privacy and security a key focus in the way that Telegram does.
As of late August, however, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Communications reportedly reached an agreement with Telegram developers to block certain features in the app, according to Global Voices Online. Specifically, the organization said, the government seeks to block features that it says were allowing users to share pornography and criticize Iranian leaders.
There is no indication that the Iranian government intends to block Telegram completely. But the app’s usefulness for private communications inside the country is now limited.
Moreover, as Global Voices Online has also pointed out, it is unclear how secure Telegram truly is. Its cryptography has not been proven flawless, it is unclear whether the app protects metadata as well as chats themselves and there is no assurance that Telegram cannot read users’ messages as they pass through its servers. For these reasons, it’s perhaps best to stay clear of Telegram altogether if you need truly secure and private instant messaging, in Iran or anywhere else.