19 June 2020
Whether Telegram has compromised the security of its customers, many experts
would disagree. However, certain anomalies were reported by some users.
On June 18, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications oversight and censorship body announced in a public statement that it has lifted its ban on Telegram, the popular messaging app. The Russian government has been attempting to block the popular social media messaging app and its various activities within its borders for two years, unsuccessfully.
It was claimed by some local media outlets that the inability of the government incompetence in preventing the use of Telegram within Russia was the reason behind the move. Then again, a spokesperson for Roskomnadzor clarified that the decision to lift the ban was made possible because Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov was willing to cooperate with the authorities in combating terrorism and extremism on his platform, as can be seen from the official statement: “Roskomnadzor is dropping its demands to restrict access to Telegram messenger in agreement with Russia’s general prosecutor’s office.”
How did it begin? Since a few years back, Telegram was seeing a rise both in number of users and usage time. But, as the app’s overall privacy framework was exclusive, Durov has been at odds with the Russian government as Roskomnadzor demanded a body of sensitive information repeatedly, which Durov was reluctant to provide them with, so that Telegram could be recognized as one of the official information distrubutors by the government.
This is not the first clash between Durov and Roskomnadzor. Way back in 2014, for example, VKontakte - a popular social networking website, whose co-founder was Durov, happened to encounter legal issues as Durov had refused sharing VKontakte's users' private data — which ultimately cost him his position as CEO and forcing him to sell his share of the company.
Since a mutual agreement was not achieved, a Telegram ban was enforced across the nation by Roskomnadzor, which seemed to not effect the app's overall usage, and might have even unwillingly provided a boost to it's popularity. While the ban was in effect, for example, even many government bodies of Russia, like the national coronavirus taskforce and the Foreign Ministry hadn't stopped using the app, in addition to a huge number of people, all sharing info via Telegram regularly.
Lifting the Ban Was a Matter of Time Igor Runets, the founder and CEO of BitRiver, reflected that the lifting of the ban directly related to Telegram’s popularity and usage in Russia. He further stated:
“Not only does Telegram have an estimated 30 million users in Russia but also an increasing number of government agencies in Russia are using it to officially communicate with the public. For example, it has been widely used by the government to broadcast official updates related to COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic.”
In addition to that, Runets believes that the government had realized at the start of the year that the ban on the app had little to no effect. Actually, Runets said that even the Russia's deputy minister for communication, Alexey Volin, acknowledged that fully blocking Telegram in the country was highly improbable.
In line with that, the CEO and founder of Quube Exchange which exchanges security tokens, Anton Zhemukhov stated that the Telegram founder would have never jeopardize the security of his platform just to obtain clearance from the Russian government.
On June 22, Durov said in his Telegram channel that Andrei Lipov becoming Roskomnadzor’s new operational head suggests that the government might be changing ways towards a new approach when it comes to privacy, encryption and related concepts and technologies. Durov also stated: “This change should be welcomed — and I hope it will last. If it doesn’t, however, we hope few users will notice any difference.”