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Edward Snowden @Snowden
, 12 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
Many don't seem to understand why I object to @Telegram having unsafe, censorable public channels in an app that is promoted as a secure messenger. Some presumed I just don't understand how channels work. So let's talk about it:
Background: @Telegram has a special position in Iran. Its "public channels" are an important source of news for many low-tech users. Competing services are often blocked, but Telegram makes concessions to avoid this (like setting up local CDNs… ).
This is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, keeping people who don't understand and will never learn what Tor and VPNs connected to a big and difficult-to-moderate communications ecosystem is valuable, when the government largely has but two moves: "block" or "not block."
On the other, it means @Telegram will face increasing pressure over time to collaborate with the Iranian government's demands for this or that. Today we saw the communications minister demand a big channel be shut down. And here's where we start getting into complexity.
Should Telegram shut one Iranian channel down to preserve access to all the others? Most would say "of course." It's more important to keep that tether to their ecosystem alive, right? They're in something close to a monopoly position, where the fallback for many is unsafe SMS.
If we presume @Durov is acting morally, this might sound like an argument for Telegram to do whatever they can to keep their Iranian presence alive. But this is unsustainable, which he should know: after all, he was forced from Russia for not doing enough favors at Vkontakte.
You can't keep an independent, destabilizing service from being blocked in authoritarian regimes, you can only delay it. So you need to be thinking about how to continuing protecting people by making the service accessible *even after the block.*
And this is where we start getting to my core concerns. @Telegram has for years faced criticisms about the basic structure of its security by prominent cryptographers and technologists. Many defenses rely upon unbroken trust in a central authority (the company). "Trust us."
Trust us not to turn over data. Trust us not to read your messages. Trust us not to close your channel. Maybe @Durov is an angel. I hope so! But angels have fallen before. Telegram should have been working to make channels decentralized—meaning outside their control—for years.
We've seen some improvements, and that's not nothing. But not the revolutionary rework it needs. Telegram still seems to encourage dangerous cloud messaging instead of secret chats. Experts ask "why?" And the answer is "convenience." That's unsafe.
Governments are becoming more abusive, not less, on the internet, especially in places like Iran, China, and Russia. @Durov said @Telegram has 25,000,000 daily users in Iran. He could be converting them all to 2FA. He could be teaching them how to use Tor bridges. I hope he will.
Governments learn slowly, but they do learn. There comes a day when it will be too late to fix these problems, and I fear it is sooner than we think.
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