Telecom operators in Brazil have been working for months to undermine the legality of WhatsApp, and now a judge in Sao Paulo has apparently agreed with the arguments. Starting at 9PM ET this evening, WhatsApp was blocked in Brazil, and will continue to be blocked for 48 hours. Mobile operators have said they will enforce the block (probably while high fiving each other). What will happen in 48 hours is unclear, but you can bet Facebook has multiple planeloads of lawyers on their way to Brazil. WhatsApp founder Jan Koum is certainly not amused.
To be clear, the name of the petitioner seeking this injunction is being kept secret by the judge, but it's probably someone associated with the wireless industry. If you ask telecoms in Brazil, the issue stems from the way WhatsApp uses phone numbers as ad-hoc usernames. Services like Skype use separate accounts, but it's the low barrier to entry that made WhatsApp so successful. You don't have to make an account—it just works. The telecoms claim that they are paying government fees on each phone number issued, but WhatsApp doesn't have to do that to offer voice calls "on the phone number." Of course, WhatsApp isn't using the phone number for calls, it's just VoIP.
This is all just the rationale that Brazilian telecoms have concocted to justify going after WhatsApp. The real problem is money. Customers are using WhatsApp for messaging and calls over their data connection, so millions of people have been canceling secondary SIM cards (dual-SIM phones are popular in Brazil). An estimated 93% of internet-connected Brazilians use WhatsApp, and they just lost access to it with no notice.
1.500.000 and counting, SMS-Gateways overloading. Hang on, your codes are coming! We've got all hands on deck to accommodate the crazy load.
— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) December 17, 2015
With WhatsApp offline, Brazilians are signing up for Telegram in huge numbers. According to the company's Twitter account, more than 1.5 million new users have signed up today. The influx is so great that SMS gateways are unable to deliver all the confirmation codes. There might be fewer people relying on WhatApp when it comes back online in a few days at this rate. Some might call this justice for WhatsApp censoring Telegram links recently.
Reuters is reporting that the ban has been reversed by a higher court. A previous version of that story claimed the ban was due to a drug trafficking case, but that text has been removed without explanation.
The Reuters story has been updated again with additional details on the suspension. Reuters reports that Band News TV has information pointing to a drug trafficking case involving the PCC gang. The details of the case are still not public.