Telegram Moves to Protect Identity of Hong Kong Protesters

Telegram Moves to Protect Identity of Hong Kong Protesters

HIGHLIGHTS
  • The update will be released over the next few days
  • It will allow protesters to block authorities from discovering identities
  • A current feature allows authorities to know identities of protestors

Telegram, a popular encrypted messaging app, will allow users to cloak their telephone numbers to safeguard Hong Kong protesters against monitoring by Chinese authorities, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort.

The update to Telegram, planned for release over the next few days, will allow protesters to block Chinese authorities from discovering their identities in the app’s large group chats.

Thousands of Hong Kong protesters take their cues from more than 100 groups on Telegram. Protesters use encrypted apps like Telegram to mobilise swiftly through multiple group chats, with less risk of police infiltration, Reuters found in a report published earlier this month.

The groups are used to post everything from news on upcoming protests to tips on dousing tear gas canisters fired by the police to the identities of suspected undercover police and the access codes to buildings in Hong Kong where protesters can hide.

Protesters have grown concerned that Chinese authorities could use the movement’s reliance on Telegram to monitor and arrest organizers. Telegram chat groups used to organise public protests are often accessible to anyone and participants use pseudonyms.

But a feature in Telegram’s design may have allowed Chinese authorities to learn the real identities of users, according to a group of Hong Kong engineers who posted their finding on a online forum earlier this month.

Telegram allows users to search for other users by uploading phone numbers. This function allows a new user to quickly learn whether those in her phone’s contact book are already using the app, the group said.

Protesters believe Chinese security officials have exploited the function by uploading large quantities of phone numbers.