Russia’s Telegram ban officially went into effect this week, but the encrypted messaging app is fighting back against the government censors -- and it’s using Bitcoin to power those efforts.
Telegram founder Pavel Durov revealed Tuesday that he has begun distributing Bitcoin grants to groups and organizations operating virtual private networks (VPNs) and other proxy services that help users bypass the nationwide ban, which was put in place by Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor.
“To support internet freedoms in Russia and elsewhere I started giving out bitcoin grants to individuals and companies who run socks5 proxies and VPN. I am happy to donate millions of dollars this year to this cause, and hope that other people will follow,” Durov wrote of the initiative, which he has termed the “Digital Resistance.”
“For us, this was an easy decision. We promised our users 100% privacy and would rather cease to exist than violate this promise,” he added in the message, which was published on his Telegram channel.
A Russian court approved the ban last week, which it justified on the grounds that Telegram has refused to provide the state’s intelligence service with encryption keys that it could use to decrypt user messages. Officials say they need access to these messages so they can investigate and prevent terrorist incidents, but the company has said that doing so would violate the privacy of its Russian users.
Telegram said that it has not experienced a noticeable decrease in user engagement since the ban went into effect, but the same cannot be said of other services whose IP addresses have been unwittingly entangled in Roskomnadzor’s net. According to Reuters, the regulatory agency has blocked 18 sub-networks and millions of IP addresses -- including some used by popular online retailers and banking providers -- belonging to Google and Amazon in an attempt to prevent Telegram from using these cloud services to bypass the ban.
It is unclear to what lengths Russia will go as it attempts to enforce the Telegram ban, but the company has ample resources to wage a prolonged crusade against the censors.
As CCN reported, Telegram has stated in public filings that it has already raised at least $1.7 billion through a private initial coin offering (ICO) presale and may attempt to increase that figure through a subsequent public sale.
Featured image from Flickr/TechCrunch.