Iran a nation that heavily censors internet use leading many users to resort to alternative forms of access such as via VPN is cracking down on messaging services like Telegram by requiring communication apps to store details of their users locally in Iran.
Most popular messaging services such as Whatsapp and Facebook messenger are based in the United States and even the most popular conversation app in Iran, Telegram is operated out of Berlin, Germany.
Most apps that store details do so on centralised servers within the country of origin of the app but the leading Supreme Council of Cyberspace of Iran has other ideas and has issued an order that any overseas messaging apps will now be required to keep data of local users in Iran itself.
Popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are completely blocked within Iran but tech-savvy users make use of VPN services from companies such as IPVanish, VyprVPN, and others to encrypt their connection and access via other countries bypassing the censorship.
Telegram the most popular messaging app in Iran due to its encrypted nature is believed to be used by up to a quarter of the total of the Iranian population and a move to store data about users within the country has raised privacy and security concerns.
Users took to Twitter to vent their frustration against the move that is seen by many as a way for the Iranian government to gain greater control over what users do and say online.
Some users claimed authorities would be able to delete what they wanted and arrest users at will should the move go ahead. Others claimed they would stop using Telegram altogether because it would become unsafe to continue to do so.
Telegram are yet to respond to reports and as per the court order have up to a year to comply.
The app became popular in Iran after it was temporarily shut down within the country last year after refusing to comply with the government.
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Ban difficult to implement
What the Iranian government plan to do should Telegram and other messaging apps not comply is yet unclear although it is likely that the services would become blocked countrywide following suite of both Facebook and Twitter.
Implementing the block could become difficult for the authorities in Iran as although it would be possible to block Telegram and other messaging apps on all major networks the majority of Iranian users are aware of VPN services that allow users to bypass censorship in countries with restrictive internet regimes.
By signing up to a VPN service users can tunnel out of Iran to a nearby country that doesn’t block the messaging app and use it inside Iran as if it wasn’t blocked.
Most leading VPN providers offer mobile apps as well as desktop software which allows Iranian users to access a range of blocked services including Facebook, Twitter and indeed apps such as Telegram should they become blocked within the country.