WhatsApp makes a free proxy service available to circumvent internet censorship

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WhatsApp will make it possible to set up proxies for users from countries where a blockade applies. In countries where WhatsApp doesn’t work, users can connect to proxies set up by companies or human rights organizations.

Proxies can be set up by volunteers or volunteer organizations. They can then offer the proxy to other users, which according to WhatsApp is mainly intended for countries where the service is blocked. “Now that we have ushered in 2023 with private messages and conversations, we realize that there are still many people who cannot do this due to internet blockages,” the company writes. The proxy services are intended to circumvent this.

WhatsApp has put a guide online in which it links to a GitHub repo with more explanation. Volunteers can set up a Docker container themselves in which the proxy runs. It is also possible via Helm set up a Kubernetes cluster. The proxies can be offered via ports 80 and 443, or on 5222, the standard port that WhatsApp itself also uses. Developers can then send a domain name or IP address to those ports on a server to make the proxy available.

Users using the proxy redirect their WhatsApp traffic through that server. That makes it more difficult for repressive regimes to block WhatsApp, for example during protests. This happened, among other things, in Iran, where large-scale protests have been held in recent months that have been put down by the regime. WhatsApp cites those specific protests as a reason for offering the proxy service. It does require users to know the specific details for a proxy, and there’s no guarantee that if enough people use it, that proxy won’t also be taken offline. Furthermore, proxies cannot be used at all if a general internet blockade is set up in a country or region.

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