How Telegram Is Trying to Dodge Russia’s Service Ban—And Dragging Google and Amazon Into the Drama

April 18, 2018, 12:50 PM UTC

Russia’s attempts to ban access to the Telegram messaging service threaten to drag U.S. tech giants including Alphabet and Amazon into the war with founder Pavel Durov as he turns to proxy servers to bypass the blocking measures.

Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor has already blocked 18 Google (GOOGL) and Amazon (AMZN) sub-networks that Telegram used to avoid restrictions, the watchdog’s head Alexander Zharov told the Izvestia daily on Wednesday. More than 15 million IP addresses were blocked as a result, making some third-party internet resources unavailable in Russia, according to Qrator Labs.

Durov rejected as “unconstitutional” Russian officials’ demands to turn over encryption keys to allow the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, to access users’ messages on Telegram to intercept communications of terrorists. Roskomnadzor started blocking access to the messenger on Monday, after a Moscow court ruled last week that Durov was in breach of Russian law.

Telegram’s Russian founder fought back, offering to pay administrators of proxy servers in bitcoins to help bypass restrictions and saying he plans to spend millions of dollars on what he called “Digital Resistance.” Telegram “remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents” despite the blocking attempts, Durov said Wednesday on Twitter.

‘Tried to Hide’

Roskomnadzor last year blocked the Zello internet walkie-talkie service for failing to comply with Russian law even though it also “tried to hide behind Amazon IP addresses,” Zharov told Izvestia. The watchdog may consider blocking Facebook (FB) if a probe to be completed by the end of this year shows that it doesn’t comply with Russian laws, he said, according to the newspaper.

The regulator is also demanding that Apple’s App Store and Google Play remove the Telegram app from their online stores in Russia, Zharov said.

Google’s press office declined to comment. Amazon’s European press office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

What’s increasingly a battle of wills between Russia and the internet prompted support for Durov from Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor given asylum by the Kremlin. Roskomnadzor’s “mad quest to punish” Telegram for protecting users’ privacy led to enormous numbers of unrelated sites being blocked “in a morally and technically ignorant censorship effort,” Snowden said Tuesday on Twitter.

Any moves by Google or Amazon to halt Telegram’s access to their platforms or to remove its app from their stores would mean “they are witting collaborators in a censorship campaign, not victims of it,” Snowden said.

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