Honest companies are expected to retain their users by offering the best service they can provide and not by actively locking them in and making it hard to switch to a competitor. Google, for example, lets users easily download all their contacts, bookmarks, photos, emails, and other personal data though Google Takeout. From there, anyone is free to close their account and move to a competing service, no questions asked. There are certainly companies that don't behave this way, but this is usually viewed with disapproving eyes — particularly when the company in question is already the biggest player on the market.
WhatsApp — the heavyweight champion of messaging clients, with almost one billion users— appear to be doing just that. In the Android app, links whose domain name is 'telegram' do not automatically generate a hyperlink or URL snippet in the same way other links do. This has the unfortunate consequence of making it much harder to follow a link to the Telegram app or a Telegram group chat. We initially thought this might be because the app didn't recognize certain top-level domains (TLD) like the '.me' TLD that Telegram uses, but URLs such as about.me are hyperlinked correctly. On the other hand, links to sites such as telegram.com are also blocked, even though they are entirely unrelated to Telegram Messenger.
To make matters more difficult for Telegram users, any message that contains a URL with a 'telegram' domain name is not able to be copied or forwarded on a long press, so it is not possible to share a Telegram link without both the sender and the receiver manually typing it out.
We were unable to find any other URL which did not automatically generate a hyperlink in the same way that the 'telegram' links did not. Possible candidates, such as links to illegal or unethical services, all produced hyperlinks and URL previews when available.
Curiously, links in both the iOS app and the web client do not face the same issue. With the exception of some TLDs that are not recognized, all links are hyperlinked correctly.
It's difficult to argue that this behavior may be caused by some random bug, since it would likely affect other links if that were the case. If indeed purposeful, this is not the sort of anti-competitive measure we would expect from a company that prides itself in building a service that lets "people around the world have the freedom to speak their mind."
We'd like to give WhatsApp the benefit of the doubt, and have reached out to them for comment.
We've heard through several sources and have confirmed independently that this is not caused by a random glitch but by code that was added to WhatsApp with the specific purpose of blocking of Telegram links. The smoking gun is a pattern match performed on any URL string that begins with the word 'telegram.' In the most recent version of the app, these strings are classified as a "bad host," so that no hyperlink is generated and it becomes impossible to copy or forward any message with that URL. No other strings trigger the match, so this block is purposefully targeted at Telegram.
- Pranav Jindal,
- Grayson Wendell