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Four days of blocking Telegram in Russia and here we are

Meduza
19:04, 19 april 2018

AlexandraPopova / Shutterstock

Telegram's Russian traffic is surging

According to data gathered by TGStat.ru, which collects information about tens of thousands of Russian-language Telegram channels, traffic on the instant messenger is going bananas this week, despite the government’s attempts to cut off access to the app.

Key: The top chart blue measures total daily traffic, wile the bottom green chart measures total daily new subscriptions. The red circle marks the date of a Moscow court ruling authorizing the blocking of Telegram in Russia, and the green circle marks the day that the Russian government started ordering ISPs to begin blocking Telegram.

Downloads of Telegram’s Android version have doubled, and traffic to telegram.org (the Web version of the messenger) is up more than 30 percent. According to the magazine RBC, many Russian state officials have continued to log into Telegram, despite the government’s decision to ban it for refusing to comply with orders from the Federal Security Service. Even without a VPN or other censorship-circumvention software activated, the app still works for many users in Russia.

Roskomnadzor (Russia’s federal censor) claimed earlier this week that it had successfully “degraded” Telegram by 30 percent, but nobody is quite sure what this means. The traffic numbers suggest that this certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the number of Russians accessing the messenger.

The assault on Telegram has disrupted other online services and websites in Russia

Roskomnadzor blocked the most in the shortest period of time on April 17, when the population of its Internet blacklist skyrocketed to 20 million IP addresses. The agency later removed some of these entries, lowering the total number of banned IP addresses to about 16 million (though this figure slowly crept back to 18.9 million IP addresses, as of April 19). Amazon cloud services make up more than half the list, which also contains millions of IP addresses operated by Google, as well as hundreds of thousands of addresses belonging to DigitalOcean (another popular hosting provider).

Within hours of Roskomnadzor ordering ISPs to start blocking Telegram on Monday, different websites and online services in Russia began reporting that their businesses were affected. Initially, the disruptions affected only small businesses using cloud computing offered by Amazon and Google, but on April 17 the outages spread to the popular Amazon streaming service Twitch and to various smart home systems. When DigitalOcean’s servers were blacklisted, Russians lost access to the news sites N+1 and FlashNord. For the past three days, Russia’s second biggest messenger, Viber (which uses Amazon servers), has also experienced service disruptions.

Roskomnadzor categorically denies that its actions have affected any services other than Telegram, but it has opened a special hot line to field calls from persons who believe their websites or online services have become inaccessible due to the blocking of Telegram's servers. Roskomnadzor’s own website has been accessible only sometimes.

German Klimenko, an advisor to Vladimir Putin, is urging Roskomnadzor to issue a public apology to the businesses its actions have disrupted. Asked about awarding potential compensation to enterprises that have lost money due to the Internet outages caused by Roskomnadzor, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this would depend on whether ISPs “admit responsibility for the disruptions.” At least 120 different companies are currently discussing the possibility of lawsuits.

Even Roskomnadzor apparently has no idea what happens next

After April 17, Roskomnadzor briefly stopped adding millions of IP addresses to Russia’s Internet blacklist. The agency reportedly met with the country’s biggest Internet service providers to discuss the campaign against Telegram. According to the newspaper Kommersant, however, no consensus was reached at the meeting.

The Russian authorities have also ordered Apple, Google, and Amazon to remove Telegram from their app stores and cease any cooperation with the messenger in Russia. So far, Roskomnadzor has not revealed if any of these American tech giants has acknowledged the request.

On April 19, the Kremlin explained that the blocking of Telegram “is something that will take several days,” arguing that hiccups this week don’t “discredit” Roskomnadzor as a federal agency.

Text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Peter Marshall