Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh, Iranian MP and chairman of the Citizenship Rights Committee, says Iranians don’t trust messaging applications developed inside the country, and attempting to control the Internet is futile.
“Censorship of the Internet will be impossible in the near future, thanks to technological breakthroughs,” Hosseinzadeh told The Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) March 27.
The Iranian government uses the term “filtering” to describe their policy of making websites, applications, and other Internet content inaccessible, although the Iranian public has proved capable of circumventing the censorship using anti-filtering software.
“Iran lacks the infrastructure to develop domestic messaging applications. And in any case, the bitter reality is that people do not trust Iranian-made messaging services,” Hosseinzadeh said, adding that “an opinion poll would prove this lack of trust.”
Government officials have recently begun promoting domestic versions of foreign messaging services like Telegram, Viber, and WhatsApp, citing security concerns they say come with using foreign apps. Judiciary officials and the Supreme Council of Cyberspace have also recently praised Iranian-made apps.
Meanwhile, Rasoul Kazemi, the developer of an Iranian messaging app called iGap, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) March 27 that Iranian apps have technical “glitches,” and agreed that Iranians do not trust them.
Kazemi added that government funding for domestic messaging apps could probably solve 5 percent of the problems, but the other 95 percent has nothing to do with money.
“Applications should be up-to-date and user friendly. But the biggest problem is that users do not trust Iranian applications and fear their privacy and security might be breached,” he said.
President Hassan Rouhani in February characterized cyberspace as “a major player in domestic and international politics.” He said that “monopoly in cyberspace would be meaningless, and a messaging service’s exclusive control of this space is against our security,” adding, “Iranian made messaging applications should be developed and be used by the people.”
Hosseinzadeh called for creating a competitive market in the area of messaging applications and warned officials against using security as an excuse to target activists online.
“Today every child has a smart phone with Telegram and other applications. If we make applications inaccessible, then they will use filter breakers and anti-filters that will also give them access to unethical content,” he said.
He also warned that soon people will not even need those anti-filters as sites such as Facebook can use new technology and drones to provide Internet access in remote areas, adding that “The best way of nullifying the enemy’s channels is wining the nation’s trust, creating a competitive atmosphere of information dissemination, putting an end to the state TV’s unilateral and biased news policy, and launching private radio stations and TV channels.”
Referring to the censorship of the net by the government during the winter unrest in Iran, Hosseinzadeh said attempts to make the Internet inaccessible would be as futile as banning video tapes and satellite TV in previous years.
“Banning video tapes did not stop people from watching videos and clamp-down on the use of satellite television did not add to the state TV’s popularity and did not dissuade people from watching foreign-based Persian-speaking TV,” he said.“Likewise, filtering Telegram did not stop anyone from using the messaging service.”
Previously, Hamideh Zarabadi, MP from Qazvin, had said that the Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decided to filter Telegram in the new Iranian year which began March 21.
Commenting on Zarabadi’s statement, the council announced that there was no ratification on banning Telegram, but agreed with the need to create a domestic equivalent for security purposes.
Iranian officials said in 2017 that over 40 million Iranians use Telegram, and nearly 20 million use WhatsApp, Instagram, and other foreign apps. The cost of using the Internet on a landline in Iran is higher than most other countries and in terms of the speed, it ranks 150 among 200 countries. Iran ranks 98 among 114 countries in terms of Internet speed on the mobile network.