HONG KONG — Encrypted messaging app Signal appears to have been blocked in mainland China, the latest foreign social media service, to cease working in a country where the government tightly controls the flow of information.
As of Tuesday, users of the app within China had to connect to a virtual private network (VPN) that allows them to circumvent China’s so-called Great Firewall, a censorship system that blocks websites, services, and apps deemed inappropriate by the Chinese government.
The move to silence Signal, one of the few remaining messaging apps in China that allowed users to engage in encrypted messaging, comes as China expands controls to shape public opinion and limit private discourse.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a daily news briefing Tuesday that he was “not aware of the situation” around Signal being banned in China.
“What I can tell you is that as a principle, China’s internet is open, and the Chinese government manages internet-related affairs according to law and regulations,” Zhao said.
A signal could not be immediately reached for comment.
Signal uses end-to-end encryption for its messaging and calling services, which prevents any third party from viewing conversation content or listening in on calls.
The app recently had grown popular among users in China concerned about privacy issues. However, the number of Signal users in the country is still tiny compared to the ubiquitous WeChat messaging app. WeChat has over a billion users and is a mainstay of everyday life in China, thanks to its payments services and social media features.
However, politically sensitive messages and content on WeChat are often censored, and authorities have detained users for spreading rumors online. Messages on WeChat are encrypted only between its servers and the users’ devices, and in theory could be accessed by Tencent, WeChat’s parent company.