Why Charges Against Us in Iran And Russia Don’t Matter
Some users ask me how the charges in Iran and Russia will affect Telegram and me personally. The simple answer to this is: they won’t.
It’s easy for me not to travel to Iran – while the country has a rich history and sounds like a fun place, I have no connections with it and can live with that travel ban. It’s a bit more noticeable in case of Russia since I am an ethnic Russian (although with a St. Kitts passport), and my parents live there. Not being able to occasionally drop by is not great, but a small price to pay considering the matters at stake.
Luckily, we don’t have any legal presence in any of these countries. The last remaining link between Telegram and Russia was cut in July, when we terminated our contract with “Telegraf” – a Saint-Petersburg-based company to which we outsourced fighting spam coming from (surprise) Russia and Iran.
“Telegraf” used to play a larger role in the early days of Telegram when I was living in Russia, losing its importance after I left in 2014 with our core team.
Following the events this June when the Russian authorities threatened to block Telegram, “Telegraf” lost its outsourcing contract from Telegram Messenger, let go all of its employees and changed its owner. By September when the Russian authorities started sending warnings to our London office, they had nobody to target in their jurisdiction, not even Russian spam moderators.
This story highlights something local regulators often tend to ignore: it’s 2017, and the world is open and connected. If you pass archaic laws that limit freedoms, all you’ll end up doing is killing your own economy. In the last few years, Google, Oracle and Microsoft (Skype) shut down their development offices in Russia, and many smaller companies followed suit.
While the state of affairs in Iran doesn't look much brighter than in Russia, things seem to be going in the right direction there compared with the situation a few years ago. I’m not an expert on Iran, but one thing about the country is clear to me: despite the continuing debate among the Iranian politicians on how to regulate the Internet, Iran is not blocking Telegram, and for the last few years 40 millions Iranians have been able to securely communicate and to get news from independent sources through Telegram channels. Instagram and WhatsApp are also accessible there.
For any European this would sound like the norm, but unfortunately it’s not always like this in the world. The Chinese and the North Koreans, for example, are far less lucky when it comes to such freedoms, and Saudi Arabia had been throttling Telegram’s traffic until recently. The situation in Iran itself used to be very different: almost all major internet services were blocked in the country several years ago (some of them still are).
Don’t get me wrong: there are probably many things that Iran can change for the better (a more IT-friendly prosecutor of Tehran, perhaps?), but overall it seems that the country is moving in the right direction by becoming more open and market-driven.
I hope that one day Iran and Russia get to a point when we (and other IT companies) will be able to set up offices there. Until then, we’ll continue providing secure messaging to users in these markets from places that respect freedom.
We don't care if specific countries press charges against us for defending the privacy of our users. We are always ready to cut all our personal and business links to such places so that they don't have any leverage on us. They can try to block us on their territory, but, as I've shown in my previous post about China, even this won't always help them. Eventually freedom and privacy will prevail, and those who would like to get back to the 1930s will find themselves on the wrong side of history.