Zello, a walky talky app that rose to fame by helping victims communicate in Hurricane Irma, is now under fire by the Russian government . The multi-platform app is basically a push to talk walkie talkie app that works over Wi-Fi and data networks to allow users to converse with no limits on users or channels.
Russia is edging closer and closer to the level of China, by blocking sites used by users in an attempt to keep citizens “safe”. Most major messaging apps have trouble working, and a large majority of VPNs are banned. Those VPNs that operate under Russia law are forced to share encryption keys so the gov can decrypt messages. Most users in the country have lost all internet freedom and control of their information due to laws like the “Yarovaya law”. This laws requires every company to store the actual contents of user data for six months as well as metadata that includes information of which users communicate with one another for three years.
As with other popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Zello has garnered attention by simply growing too big and refusing to give up user data so the Russian government can spy on it’s huge user base. The app uses a database of 15 million IP addresses that allow some 100 million users worldwide the ability to communicate for free or by using the paid work edition.
Last year, Zello refused to comply with Russian law to share data and encryption keys with the successor to the spy agency the KGB–now the Federal Security Service (FSB). Now, Russia’s telecom censorship power, Rozcomnadzor, is making plans to move forward to block Zello from operating within Russia.
Letters have been sent to every major ISP within Russia to block some 36 odd subnets in order to take down Zello. However, 26 of the subnets belong to Amazon Web Services–which Zello uses, but a large majority of other sites and services that use the services could also be affected and thus blocked.
“The subnets selected by Roskomnadzor are not all Amazon’s IP addresses, but they account for a significant portion of the addresses from two large regions of the United States where the company’s data centers are located,” according to Vedomosti, a Russian news source.
As of right now, none of these IPs have been blocked yet, and Zello continues to operate unharmed. However, if Russia really wants to prove a point and start a censorship crusade like none other–well except China, now would be the time to do it.