WhatsApp has launched a major new update to let people chat even amid internet shutdowns.
The new tool allows people to stay online using proxy servers, which will allow them to get around the kinds of internet shutdowns or blocks that are instituted by some governments.
WhatsApp said it launched the feature in response to a flurry of global shutdowns, including in Iran. Those blocks “deny people’s human rights and cut people off from receiving urgent help”, the company said in its announcement.
The company said that its “wish for 2023 is that these internet shutdowns never occur”. But it resolved to add the feature “in case these shutdowns continue”, it said.
It is built into WhatsApp‘s settings and will allow users to enter the name of a proxy server and use it to connect to the internet.
Proxy servers work as alternative gateways between a user and the internet when traditional connection methods and servers have been shut down or cut off - providing the necessary connection between a user and the website or service they wish to access.
WhatsApp noted that many have been set up by volunteers and organisations around the world to help people “communicate freely”, and the company will also offer guidance to people on how to set up a proxy in order to help others.
The feature should now be available within the settings menu for everyone using the latest version of the app, WhatsApp said.
“Connecting via proxy maintains the same high level of privacy and security that WhatsApp provides,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
“Your personal messages will still be protected by end-to-end encryption - ensuring they stay between you and the person you’re communicating with and are not visible to anyone in between, not the proxy servers, WhatsApp, or Meta.
“Our wish for 2023 is that these internet shutdowns never occur.
“Disruptions like we’ve seen in Iran for months on end deny people’s human rights and cut people off from receiving urgent help.
“Though in case these shutdowns continue, we hope this solution helps people wherever there is a need for secure and reliable communication.”
Additional reporting by Press Association