Telegram app founder no stranger to stand-off between Apple, US govt

Reuters Barcelona | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on February 24, 2016

Pavel Durov, CEO of Telegram

Pavel Durov, founder of secure messaging app Telegram and VKontakte, lives in the vortex that now pits technology giant Apple against the FBI.

His current venture, Telegram, has been built from the ground up to resist government pressure, operating in a fashion more akin to stateless whistleblower site WikiLeaks, than Silicon Valley-rooted Apple, which is in a stand-off with the FBI.

Durov has spent years fending off intrusions into his users’ communications, forging an uncompromising stance on privacy after founding VKontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook, then losing control of it for refusing Russian government demands to block dissidents.

Ethical dilemma

“We had a simple choice: either betray our values or keep our values and leave Russia to try to do something new,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress.

Telegram, a tenth the size of Facebook-owned rival WhatsApp, has caught on in many corners of the globe including for a while with the Islamic State, as an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages. Authorities in China, Iran and Russia have threatened or taken action to block its service.

“We are not willing to compromise our values in order to increase our market share,” Durov said.

Durov inevitably sides with Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook.

“There’s always a risk that your iPhone can be stolen, and the people who stole it can use the data, your private photos, etc to blackmail you,” he said. Forcing Apple to build tools to defeat its own security methods would set a dangerous precedent, he added.

“Making profits will never be a goal for Telegram,” its site says, and if it runs out of money, “we’ll invite users to donate and add non-essential paid options.”

Published on February 24, 2016
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