Emojis Smile as Brazil Appeals Judge Reverses WhatsApp Blockage

  • Suspension was unreasonable and harmed users, judge says
  • Restoring the service may take few hours: SindiTelebrasil

Happy emoji faces and thumbs-up signs started flashing across social media in Brazil after an appeals court judge reversed an earlier decision that had blocked Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service in the country for about 12 hours.

“It is not reasonable that millions of users are affected by the company’s inertia” to provide information to the courts, Sao Paulo Justice Court Judge Xavier de Souza said in his decision, published on the court’s website.

Late Wednesday, Judge Sandra Regina Nostre Marques ordered the service to be suspended for 48 hours after WhatsApp declined twice to turn over data requested by the court as part of a criminal case, according to another statement posted on the Court’s website.

WhatsApp, with more than 100 million local users, 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 messaging service. The second-most used app is Facebook, with 79 percent.

Rivals Benefit

The temporary suspension was enough time to benefit some of WhatsApp’s rivals in Brazil. Telegram Messenger, a competing app that includes text and voice messages, said on its Twitter account that some of its SMS gateways crashed after 1.5 million new users joined the service. Viber said on its Twitter feed that usage in Brazil, one of its biggest markets, was up 2,000 percent in 12 hours.

Brazilian wireless operators will re-establish WhatsApp service once they are officially informed of the appeals court decision, according to SindiTelebrasil, the country’s phone-company association. The process may take a few hours. In separate statements, Oi SA and Telefonica Brasil SA said their WhatsApp service has already been restored. 

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.

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.

“This is a sad day for Brazil,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page before the reversal was announced. “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 was "working hard" to reverse the block, he said.

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