Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Brazil Judge Blocks Usage of Facebook's WhatsApp for 48 Hours

  • Zuckerberg says in blog post it's `a sad day' for Brazil
  • Oi says taking legal measures to preserve consumers' interest

A Brazilian court has blocked Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service for 48 hours after it refused to comply with a court order, affecting its more than 100 million local users and eliciting outrage on social media.

Judge Sandra Regina Nostre Marques ordered the suspension of the service after WhatsApp declined twice to turn over data requested by the courts as part of a criminal case, the Sao Paulo Justice Court said in a statement posted on its website.

“This is a sad day for Brazil,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page. “I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.” Facebook is "working hard" to reverse the block, he said.

‘Complicated Process’

After WhatsApp’s refusal, the court ordered local wireless carriers to block access to the hugely popular free text and voice messaging service on their networks. SindiTelebrasil, the country’s phone-company association, said it would comply with the ruling, though technically it’s a very complicated process. Failing to follow the court’s order could result in fines or the arrest of employees, according to Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Mobile operator Oi SA said in an e-mailed statement “it will take all the legal measures necessary to preserve consumers’ interests.”

The Sao Paulo prosecutor’s office requested the suspension of WhatsApp after the service refused to provide the content of communication between alleged drug dealers that are part of a criminal organization known as PCC, one of Sao Paulo’s biggest and most dangerous gangs, according to Lauro Jardim, a columnist for O Globo newspaper. The details of the case are being kept secret by the court judge.

Simmering Tensions

The decision is “absolutely inadequate and disproportional,” said Luiz Gustavo de Oliveira Ramos, a lawyer specializing in Internet and telecommunications at Oliveira Ramos e Advogados Associados law firm in Sao Paulo.

The order highlights simmering tensions between Brazilian phone companies and WhatsApp. The telecommunications operators have been losing money as customers shift to WhatsApp to make free voice-over-Internet phone calls.

The standoff has already benefited some of WhatsApp’s competitors in Brazil.
Telegram Messenger, a competitor app that includes messages and voice, said on its Twitter account that some of its SMS gateways crashed after 1.5 million new users joined the service since Wednesday night.

WhatsApp is the most-used app in Brazil, according to an Ibope poll published on Dec. 15. The survey showed 93 percent of the 2,000 people researched said they use the messenger. The second most used app is Facebook, with 79 percent.

“We are disappointed in the short-sighted decision to cut off access to WhatsApp, a communication tool that so many Brazilians have come to depend on, and sad to see Brazil isolate itself from the rest of the world.,” Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s CEO, said in another Facebook post.

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