Russia Shuts Down Chat App Zello by Blocking Google IP Addresses

Russian authorities have blocked access nearly 300 Google IP addresses in the country on Thursday, in an attempt to shut down encrypted messenger application Zello, Vedomosti reported.

Last month, Russia’s telecoms watchdog told ISPs to block 15 million IP addresses to shut down the encrypted chat app Zello. Most of those IP addresses belonged to Amazon, which responded by asking Zello not to use its servers. With Zello now operating via Google services, instructions have been sent to block 286 IP addresses and 285 domains belonging to the search giant.

Roskomnadzor emphasizes that this will not affect the work of other Internet company services, but it is impossible to predict how the blocking of technical IP-addresses will affect them”, said Artem Kozlyuk, the head of Roskomvoboda, an anti-censorship NGO.

Zello is an application for various platforms (iOS, Android, Windows), which allows exchanging voice messages over the Internet. The principle of operation is similar to a walkie-talkie: users cannot talk at the same time, only one by one. But unlike conventional radios, Zello works wherever there is access to the Internet. Founded in Russia but now based in the U.S., Zello doesn’t want to share its keys with Russia, nor does it want to store the data of 400,000 Russian users as local law now dictates.

Kozlyuk said that in theory the latest measures could affect the operation of Google services in Russia and other websites, but the work of Zello itself cannot be blocked.

While the app is hailed as a great tool, it is not popular with the Russian government. Under the so-called ‘Yarovaya law‘, services like Zello, plus ISPs and other telecoms companies, are required to pre-register with Russian telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor. They are also required to share encryption keys so that law enforcement can decrypt messages. The agency has been fighting the application for almost a year, while also targeting other encrypted messenger apps, most notably Telegram.