Moscow has, after a saga that has lasted many months in the courts and even longer out of them, finally banned encrypted messaging app Telegram.
On Friday, a Moscow court approved a request from Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor to block the service after Telegram refused to hand over the digital keys that encrypt user conversations.
Roskomnadzor first asked Telegram to hand over the keys in June 2017. Telegram’s enigmatic owner Pavel Durov refused, saying the service was built so its operators had no access to customer data – but added it wouldn’t anyway because, “Telegram stands for freedom and privacy.”
The court gave Telegram an 4th April deadline to comply – which Telegram duly missed – and the court acted on Friday morning after Russian news agency TASS reported that Telegram had asked for a delay in the hearings. TASS also reported that Durov told his lawyers not to show up to the hearing so as “not to legitimize an outspoken farce by their presence.”
The Telegram is a messaging app that has something like 200 million users, 10 million of which are Russian. Forbes reported that after the trial verdict was delivered, Durov was instructing his Russian-based users how they can still access the app, by either using “built-in methods to bypass blocks” or by accessing Telegram though virtual private networks (VPNs).
The 33-year-old Durov has lived outside Russia since 2014 after his first social network platform, VKontakte – known as the Russian Facebook – was also ordered by authorities to hand over data, this time concerning Ukrainian protest leaders.
He is widely reported to be a billionaire and last month the ICO for the Telegram GRAM crypto-coin had, according to Bloomberg, raised $1.7 billion in a few weeks, with estimates saying it could eventually bring in as much as $5 billion – which would make it the biggest crypto fundraiser to date.
Durov soon took to his personal Telegram account to comment on the Moscow court verdict.
“The power that local governments have over IT corporations is based on money. At any given moment, a government can crash their stocks by threatening to block revenue streams from its markets and thus force these companies to do strange things (remember how last year Apple moved iCloud servers to China).”
“At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales. Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”
The Moscow court ruled that the ban against Telegram – that Russia’s security agency, the FSB, previously said was the messenger of choice for “international terrorist organisations in Russia” – is to be put in to immediate effect.
How this will impact Durov or his rapidly growing global digital empire remains to be seen.