Instant messaging platform WhatsApp has launched a new feature that it says will help people stay in touch with friends and loved ones even during local government shutdowns.
The new feature enables users to have WhatsApp connect via an internet proxy, effectively bypassing the kind of local internet infrastructure that governments take offline or use to block websites and services during shutdowns.
Unfortunately, internet shutdowns are sometimes used by governments when they want to control the information people can see or share. WhatsApp can be a vital communication tool at these times, so the company has shared details about a proxy feature designed to prevent its messaging platform from being impacted. Proxies are often used as gateways between a user and the internet — in this case a proxy is being used to redirect WhatsApp traffic away from infrastructure that might have been impacted by an internet shutdown.
Announced via blog post (opens in new tab), WhatsApp says its new feature will put “the power into people’s hands to maintain access to WhatsApp if their connection is blocked or disrupted.”
WhatsApp says that proxy servers will be “set up by volunteers and organizations around the world dedicated to helping people communicate freely” and people can help by setting up one of their own.
It’s important to remember that, even with a proxy enabled, WhatsApp says messages will remain protected by end-to-end encryption, “ensuring they stay between you and the person you’re communicating with and are not visible to anyone in between, not the proxy servers, WhatsApp, or Meta.”
Hopefully this isn’t a feature that most of us will need to use, but WhatsApp has shared a guide on enabling its new proxy feature for those who might need it in the future. The feature can be used on WhatsApp across the web, iPhone, and Android devices.
WhatsApp has long been one of the best iPhone messaging apps and services around and this new feature is an important one for people who live in countries where internet shutdowns are something to be concerned about.