Zello the Walkie-talkie communication app has become the latest to be banned by Russian authorities. On Sunday, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision in the Telecom, Information Technologies, and Mass Communications, or Roskomnadzor, stated that it was blocking Zello for spreading “false information” on the Ukraine invasion.
“On March 4, Roskomnadzor, based on the decision, sent the administration of the American Internet resource Zello (Zello Inc.) a request to stop sending messages to users that contain false information about the course of a special operation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine,” reads the translated message in part. “Due to the failure of the administration of Zello to comply with the requirements of Roskomnadzor within 24 hours, access to this application on the territory of the Russian Federation will be limited.”
Zello, which has both a free and a paid version of its service, lets users make voice discussion “Channels“ that can have up to 7,000 people in them. This is like a voice chat room where people can talk to each other in real time. This feature came in handy in 2017 when Zello users tried to coordinate aid in response to Hurricane Irma, and more recently, when rioters used Zello to get into the U.S. Capitol building on January 6.
Apparently, Russians using Zello within the country have come up against official government censors.
Zello does, however, provide end-to-end encryption for its chat service. “End-to-end encryption ensures that group communications remain private and secure,” the business states. For Zello to listen in on these discussions would be impossible if implemented correctly. Unlike Group discussions, which are private, unencrypted channels, public channels are searchable by anyone, anywhere.
We reached out to Zello in an attempt to determine whether or not the alleged restriction of their app in Russia has had any impact on service. We also inquired as to how many users the app has in Russia, as well as whether or not the company has responded to Roskomnadzor’s announcement. We did not receive an immediately answer.
“We would also [be forced to] provide law enforcement with the means of surveillance on Zello conversations globally and would have to share all Zello encryption keys with FSB, the Russian state security organization,” read Zello’s response at the time. “These are requirements that we are not able to meet or willing to comply with, even if we could.”
In 2017, Zello reported that company had roughly 400,000 users in Russia.
As Russia moves to crack down on online communication platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and now Zello in the country, the importance of a secure, private communication tool — such as Signal, which saw a spike in use in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, or Zello’s end-to-end encrypted Group conversations — has never been more apparent.