A judge in Sao Paulo has ordered WhatsApp to shut down for 48 hours, starting at 9pm Eastern tonight.
WhatsApp is the single most used app in Brazil, with about 93 million users, or 93% of the country’s internet population. It’s a particularly useful service for Brazil’s youth and poor, many who cannot afford to pay the most expensive plans on the planet.
Brazilian telco’s have been lobbying for months to convince the government that WhatsApp’s voice service is unregulated and illegal (not entirely unlike the taxi industry’s posture on Uber), and have publicly blamed the “WhatsApp effect” for driving millions of Brazilians to abandon their cell phone lines.
A WhatsApp shut-down would be akin to taking half the country off the electricity grid because of an industry squabble over the impending threat of solar power.
Brazilian telecommunications companies have attempted to halt the stratospheric growth of WhatsApp in the country before, arguing to the government that the messaging app’s free calling option is unregulated and illegal, and blaming the service for a marked decrease in people picking up cellphone contracts. Earlier this year, Amos Genish, president of Brazilian telecoms firm Vivo, called WhatsApp “pure piracy,” specifying that the service used phone numbers that “belonged” to cellphone providers like his. Until now Brazilian companies have been unsuccessful in their quest to regulate WhatsApp, but today’s shutdown may be the beginning of a change of approach from the country’s government.