First Facebook, then Twitter, and then Facebook again. Now… Zello?
Roskomnadzor in Russia, which is responsible for censoring media and the internet, announced that it was moving “to limit” Zello’s walkie-talkie app. According to an official press statement (translated by Google from Russian), the issue is that Texas’s company failed to stop discussion about Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Roskomnadzor sent the administration of the American Internet resource Zello, (Zello Inc.), a request to cease sending users messages that contain false information about the course of an operation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the territory of Ukraine on March 4. “Due to failure by the administration of Zello, to comply with Roskomnadzor’s requirements within 24 hours access to this application will be restricted on the territory of Russia Federation.”
Zello lets users create voice discussions ” channels” with up to 7,000 people. Think voice chat rooms filled with people talking in real-time. This function was useful in 2017, when users tried to coordinate assistance into Hurricane Irma and more recently when Jan.6 rioters using Zello invaded the U.S. Capitol Building.
Official government censors seem to have ruled out Russians using service in the country.
Zello offers an encrypted end-to-end chat service. The company explained that group conversations are encrypted and private. If the system is properly implemented, no one can listen to those conversations. Public channels are different from Group conversations because they’re open to the public and searchable.
In an effort to find out if this alleged limitation of the app’s Russian version has affected service, we reached out to Zello. We also wanted to know how many Russian users the app has, and if the company had any reaction to Roskomnadzor’s announcement. We did not receive an immediate response.
This is not the first time that the Russian government has attempted to restrict Zello in any way. Zello claimed that in 2017, officials tried to block the app after the company refused to comply with a demand to store Russian user data.
“We would also be [forced to] provide law enforcement the means to monitor Zello conversations worldwide and would have to share all Zello encryption key with FSB (the Russian state security organization”),” read Zello’s reply at that time. These are demands that we are unable to meet or willing to comply with, even though we could.
According to Zello, it had around 400,000 Russian users in 2017.
Russia is threatening to crack down on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Now It has made it clear that a private and secure communication tool, like Signal, which saw a spike of use in Ukraine after Russia invaded, and Zello’s encrypted Group conversations, has never been more important.