Recently, Brazil’s government ordered WhatsApp to shut down its services within the country (1). WhatsApp is widely adopted by Brazilians. In a country with a population of around 200 million, there are about 100 million users, and the ruling caused a massive reaction against the decision.
With the power of the Internet, however, people immediately sought ways to get around the block through the use of VPN services, in order to keep using WhatsApp. Many migrated to other apps, such as Telegram, which in a matter of three hours gained a million of new users, causing difficulty for Telegram due to the sudden overload (2).
The conflict between the new and old paradigms, the new ways and the old ways, becomes clearer and clearer.
For instance, in another recent example, several city governments prohibited Uber, claiming the service to be officially illegal (3), despite the fact that federal law says it is not. Taxi drivers and Uber drivers began having physical conflicts and confrontations.
In the city of Porto Alegre, where I live, a few taxi owners set a trap for an Uber driver in attempt to have police catch him and fine him. The driver realized what was going on, so the taxi owners, who were in the backseat of his Uber car, told him to stop, and they beat him. More than three men beat the driver and damaged the car too (4).
—Uber driver beaten by taxi drivers in Porto Alegre, Brazil
The population reacted with commotion because they were already dissatisfied with bad service from taxi drivers. The people showed support for Uber, and the number of Uber users jumped considerably, according to company managers here in Porto Alegre (5), despite the fact that city laws say that Uber is illegal.
More and more people are coming into conflict with authorities while trying to use the benefits of new technologies that threaten established corporations.
Large companies like cell phone and cable TV companies are pushing for laws to control and impose taxes on services such as Netflix and WhatsApp, since they claim both take profits from them.
The government has come up with a new attack this time on WhatsApp. Instead of saying that the service needs do be taxed and regulated, they are now claiming they need to shut it down because WhatsApp has refused to open their database and betray users' private information to the government, which claims to need access because it says criminals in prison use the messaging app to communicate, commit crimes, and send commands to criminals outside prison.
Once again, in order to "protect" us, the government claims it needs open access to our private information. This is the story told by the media in the papers and in the news on TV.
Of course, this is ridiculous. How are prisoners getting access to cell phones while in jail? The media immediately took the side of “the law” by saying that WhatsApp is “making it all hard for everybody” and hard "for the law” (6).
Why do a company and their customers' privacy need to be sacrificed because Brazil’s government is incompetent and incapable of stopping prisoners from gaining access to cell phones? It’s pure propaganda in favor of the state gaining more control over our lives. The media promptly prop the story up without a thought.
The good news is that people now know about VPN services, which most had never used before, including me. As people come to know more about growing technological means to escape state controls, I feel more hopeful about the future. At the same time, I worry about the narrative governments and media are pushing onto the population. I wonder what other measures they will adopt to deal with the population's growing means to resist. It’s scary to think about where we might be headed.
Despite this, I’m still hopeful. If people were able to learn about VPNs in a matter of hours because of the quick response on the Internet, I think people will be able to deal with anything else just as quickly. And of course, depending on what crisis is coming ahead, Bitcoin will also be right there when we need it.
Could events like this be just the beginning of a future in which people learn about and massively adopt cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin?
Let's hope so. I certainly do.
Sources (in Portuguese)