WhatsApp adds proxy support to help bypass government crackdowns

People living elsewhere can help by hosting proxy servers.

Dilara Senkaya / reuters

Iran blocked Instagram and WhatsApp access last year to subdue protests following 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death at local authorities’ hands. When authoritarian governments crack down on online communications — which often includes blocking VPNs — it helps to have a backup plan. So WhatsApp is adding proxy support to help those living under oppressive regimes keep using the service.

The company explained today in a blog post, “Choosing a proxy enables you to connect to WhatsApp through servers set up by volunteers and organizations around the world dedicated to helping people communicate freely.” To use a proxy, make sure WhatsApp is updated to the latest version, and follow these instructions. (Note that the setting is found in slightly different places on Android and iOS.)

As part of the setup, you’ll need to enter a proxy server address, which you’ll need to track down through friends or by scouring social media once news of the feature spreads. WhatsApp also points anyone interested in hosting a proxy server toward these steps.

WhatsApp says all proxied messages will still be protected with end-to-end encryption. That allegedly means neither WhatsApp, its parent company Meta, nor proxy-server owners can read your content.

“Our wish for 2023 is that these internet shutdowns never occur,” the company said. “Disruptions like we’ve seen in Iran for months on end deny people’s human rights and cut people off from receiving urgent help. Though in case these shutdowns continue, we hope this solution helps people wherever there is a need for secure and reliable communication.”