By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Popular online messaging service, WhatsApp, has today December 17th been suspended for 48 hours in Brazil. A court in São Paulo state has ruled that the app will not function for two days because it is said to have failed to cooperate in a criminal investigation.
WhatsApp, which is owned by American company Facebook, is the most widely used app in Brazil and has about 100 million personal users. Companies, federal and local government also use the service to send messages, voicemails and pictures over the internet.
“This is a sad day for Brazil. Until today, Brazil has been an ally in creating an open internet,” posted Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.
Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s chief executive, added: “We are disappointed in the short-sighted decision to cut off access to WhatsApp, a communication tool that so many Brazilians have come to depend on, and sad to see Brazil isolate itself from the rest of the world.”
A Brazilian court has order the country’s mobile-phone operators to block access to the service, effective from 2AM this morning. The ruling is part of a criminal court case in São Paulo state, the details of which are being kept secret as is allowed under Brazilian law.
WhatsApp is said to have failed to respond to a court order on July 23rd. It was then notified on August 7th that the company would be subject to a fixed penalty for non-compliance. Mobile-phone operators in the country have been pressurizing the government to limit voice-over internet calls, which services like WhatsApp offer, as they say they undermine their own services.
A recent study showed for the first time since data has been recorded there has been a reduction in the number of active mobile telephone lines in Brazil. In September 2015 there were 275 million active mobile telephone lines in the country, a decline by one percent from January of 2015, bucking the trend of rapid expansion.
Users of mobile phones that are frustrated by the suspension of the service are turning to VPN apps to circumnavigate the ban or are using Facebook Messenger, Viber and other communication apps to socialize and do business while WhatsApp is down.