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Why Iranians Are Right To Shun Domestic Messaging Apps

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Since the filtering of the popular messaging app Telegram by Iranian officials August 30, authorities have begun encouraging citizens to instead use similar apps developed in Iran to take its place.

One such app, Soroush, was created by Iran’s state TV and radio organization. In order to set an example, many officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the President Hassan Rouhani closed their accounts on Telegram and joined Soroush.

However, all the attempts to convince Iranian users to give up Telegram in favor of the state-sponsored replacements have so far been in vain. With the help of circumvention tools, most Iranian Telegram users have stayed on the app. Many cite security and privacy concerns as the main reason they are reluctant to use domestic apps.

The Iranian regime has an extremely poor record in regard to security. Due to a lack of laws protecting citizens’ right to privacy, security organs like the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the police use their unlimited authority to monitor those apps and punish dissidents, human rights activists, or even ordinary users for criticizing the establishment or violating country’s strict moral codes.

Even though security is a subjective matter in the digital world and absolute security does not exist anywhere, one should be even more wary of Iranian messaging apps for a few reasons.

All Iranian apps guarantee their user’s privacy and security, but these claims have not been verified by any independent source. Furthermore, Iranian apps do not support end-to-end encryption. This means security officials or hackers can easily access users’ information and conversations, from sent and received text messages to photos and videos.

It is true that Telegram also does not encrypt messages by default, however, we should remember that the company’s servers are all based in countries where accessing users’ data requires a complicated legal process. Such processes do not exist in Iran.

Several users have reported that accounts have been created for them in the regime-backed app Soroush without their knowledge. This proves that the company does not respect users’ privacy and is not reliable.

A similar violation committed in the EU would cost a company between 5-20 million Euros. But so far, none of the Iranian officials, not even the telecommunications minister, have even reacted to the accusations of fake profiles being created.

In short, sending messages through Iranian apps is like shouting them in the middle of a street in Tehran. Users can just as easily face persecution if the regime does not like the content of their messages.