Iranian authorities are not actually trying to block the Telegram instant messaging app, despite reports to the contrary. That’s according to new statements from the app’s Russian developer, Paul Durov.
Telegram Messenger is a cross-platform app that provides messaging and file sharing for individuals and groups. It has some privacy-centric features built in, including encryption and a feature that lets users configure messages to self-destruct after they have been received.
Reports surfaced earlier this fall that Iranian authorities were pressuring the company behind Telegram to censor the app in the country. Authorities were particularly interested in blocking messages that involved pornography or were critical of the government.
Then, in October, Durov — the entrepreneur behind Telegram — said on Twitter that Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology had “demanded that @telegram provided [sic] them with spying and censorship tools.”
Telegram service then went down temporarily in Iran. At the time, Durov assumed that that was the result of censorship by the government. “We ignored the demand, they blocked us,” he wrote on Twitter.
Now, Durov says the Iranian government didn’t actually block Telegram. While he did not deny having been pressured to block certain features in the app, the requests were “fake” and not authorized by government officials, he wrote.
Durov also said he now believes that the disruption in Telegram service was the result of a technical failure, not deliberate censorship by the government. “My earlier claim about Telegram getting blocked may have been inaccurate (or at least premature),” he said.
This isn’t to say Iran doesn’t maintain one of the strongest Internet censorship regimes in the world. But it does suggest that the government has not targeted Telegram as much as the app’s developers previously believed.
Just as important, it helps to alleviate concerns that the Iranian authorities have the technical infrastructure in place to block a particular app like Telegram, which can be tricky. Now, it’s not clear that they were able to block the app deliberately. If Durov is right, simple network failures caused it to become unavailable in this case — although that’s not reason for Iranian Internet users to let their privacy guard down.