Published:Apr 24, 2023

Digital democracy|Digital freedom

Messaging app restrictions around the world

Undemocratic governments often turn to internet censorship to control the public narrative on sensitive political issues and to stop news from spreading. Restrictions commonly occur amid government repressions, protests, military actions, or elections, and they commonly target popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. Surfshark’s chart of this week examines 196 countries and reports which countries are guilty of government-imposed messaging app restrictions.

Key insights

  • 53 of the 196 examined UN countries and territories have imposed restrictions on messaging apps since 2015. According to Surfshark’s data, all cases were politically motivated: protests caused 32% of the cases, while 14% were due to elections, and 13% were due to a country’s internet laws. 41% of cases were due to other types of political turmoil, such as military operations.
  • WhatsApp is the most commonly restricted messaging app - 48 of the 53 countries that have placed restrictions on messaging apps have targeted this platform. Telegram has been restricted by half of these countries, and 38% have targeted other messaging services, such as Skype, Viber, Signal, or similar apps.
  • Two countries have restricted messaging apps in the past for their refusal to compromise on end-to-end encryption. Russia has banned Telegram¹, and Brazil has banned WhatsApp² for refusing to allow government agencies to access user data. The U.K. could become the third on the list — the country’s parliament is currently considering the Online Safety Bill, which, if passed, would require apps to scan user conversations for illegal material, impeding end-to-end encryption, which protects the messages³.
  • Messaging app restrictions have affected over 5 billion people since 2015 — two-thirds of the global population. Around 3.3 billion people are currently affected, mostly from Asian countries. Two-thirds of the Asian population are currently living under messaging app restrictions.

Methodology and sources

Drawing on data from our Internet Shutdown Tracker, we analyzed the countries that are confirmed to have restricted messaging apps, either presently or in the past. We looked closer at the reasons for these restrictions, the number of people affected, and the services targeted. Messaging apps other than Telegram and WhatsApp were grouped into the “Other” category. These include services such as Skype, Viber, Signal, or similar. Facebook Messenger was not included in this analysis because it is a social media platform with messaging capabilities rather than a standalone messaging app.

For the complete research material behind this study, click here.

Data was collected from:

Surfshark (2023). Messaging (VoIP) app restrictions by countryWorldometer (2020). Population by country


¹ The Guardian (2018). Moscow court bans Telegram messaging app² Financial Times (2016). WhatsApp ban ignites Brazil censorship fears³ The Independent (2023). WhatsApp could soon be illegal in the UK, boss warns
The team behind this research:About us