The Iranian government has banned encrypted messaging app Telegram and launched its own replacement, according to a report from Al Jazeera. The government is said to be encouraging users to adopt messaging app Soroush instead, which is expected to lack the same privacy features as Telegram.
Telegram is estimated to have 40 million users in Iran and was reportedly used “extensively” during 2017 protests in the region. It was reportedly banned at the time, along with Instagram, in a move prompted by “national security issues” associated with its encryption.
Telegram has risen in popularity over the last few years inline with increasing concerns over privacy. The app has an end-to-end encrypted “secret chats” feature that allows users to communicate with messages that can only be read by sender and recipient, and cannot be deciphered by anyone else. This is available in addition to other functions focused on user-privacy, like “self-destructing” messages.
The government-approved Soroush app was launched last Thursday and appears to include typical features associated with messaging apps, including downloadable sticker packs. One of these, according to Al Jazeera, includes a character holding a sign that reads “Death to America,” while another displays criticism of Israel. The app’s link to the government has apparently “raised concerns” among Iranians that their communications could be monitored.