SAO PAULO, Brazil — Millions of Brazilians woke up shocked and cranky Thursday after the popular WhatsApp smartphone messaging application was shut down for two days on a judge’s order.
The service is wildly popular in Brazil because it is free, and millions in South America’s largest country are poor.
The measure, which is to last until midnight Friday, was roundly denounced by parent company Facebook. It was ordered by a judge after WhatsApp failed to disclose information requested by prosecutors as part of a criminal investigation.
Authorities say they cannot disclose details of that probe because it is an ongoing case.
WhatsApp is causing headaches for Brazil‘s telecoms companies because it offers a free alternative to the country’s high cell phone rates, especially for youths and the poor.
Brazilian service providers received the judge’s order and have no choice but to comply with it, Eduardo Levy, chairman of Brazil‘s association of cellphone service providers, told the G1 website Thursday morning.
But at least one of the four major providers has appealed the order, arguing that the suspension affected millions of people out of the blue.
“This hurts consumers, and overnight it affected millions of users. There was not even time to issue a statement to customers. They are going to think the problem is with their service provider,” Levy said.
The chairman of the state-run National Telecommunications Agency, Joao Rezende, also criticized the suspension, calling it disproportionate.
Twitter lit up with messages about the WhatsApp shutdown.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said “we are working hard to get this block reversed.”
“This is a sad day for Brazil,” he said, noting the country’s history of support for an open Internet. “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.”
He urged the court to “quickly reverse course” and asked Brazilians to echo that call.
Zuckerberg also recommended that users turn to Facebook Messenger in the meantime.
A São Paulo state court said WhatsApp had been asked several times to cooperate in the criminal investigation, but had repeatedly failed to comply.
Instant messaging service Telegram, backed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, said it had registered some 1.5 million new users in several hours due to the blockage.
“1,500,000 and counting, SMS-Gateways overloading. Hang on, your codes are coming! We’ve got all hands on deck to accommodate the crazy load,” it said on Twitter.