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WhatsApp's 'sad day' in Brazil comes to a quick end

A court overturns an order that imposed a 48-hour ban on the messaging app in a country where it's wildly popular.

WhatsApp is wildly popular in Brazil. Brazilian telecoms say the app undermines their services.
James Martin/CNET

Not long after one court muzzled WhatsApp in Brazil, another one put it back in business.

The hugely popular messaging and voice app had been ordered shut down throughout the country for 48 hours starting at midnight Thursday local time, according to Reuters. The shutdown stemmed from WhatsApp's noncompliance in a criminal proceeding, according to a statement provided to Reuters by a court in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

On Thursday, a second Brazilian court ordered that the suspension be lifted, with the judge saying "it did not seem reasonable that millions of users" should lose the ability to use WhatsApp, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The hiatus had come as Brazilian telecommunications companies sought to curtail the meteoric growth of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which is used by people around the world to send texts without paying carrier fees. The companies claim the app undermines their own services, Reuters reported.

WhatsApp is the most popular app in Brazil, used by about 93 percent of those surveyed by TechTudo, a Brazilian tech website. In April, it reported it had 45 million users in the country, up from 38 million two months earlier.

The shutdown order came after the Sao Paulo State Justice Tribunal in Sao Bernardo do Campo determined that WhatsApp had not complied with two court orders issued this summer, Reuters reported. The nature of the case and the identity of the petitioner seeking the injunction were not immediately known.

Jan Koum, the CEO of WhatsApp, in a Facebook post had called the shutdown a poor judgment by the court.

"We are disappointed in the short-sighted decision to cut off access to WhatsApp, a communication tool that so many Brazilians have come to depend on, and sad to see Brazil isolate itself from the rest of the world," Koum wrote.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg later weighed in with his own message of dismay about what he called "a sad day for Brazil." He said at the time that the company hoped to get the block reversed quickly, and he reminded Brazilians of an alternative way to stay in touch. "Until then," he said in a Facebook post, "Facebook Messenger is still active and you can use it to communicate instead."

Founded in 2009, WhatsApp started out as a basic text-messaging app but one that also offered the ability to leave voice messages. Available on just about every mobile platform, it has also rolled out a voice-calling feature, firing a shot across the bow of services like Skype and Viber.

WhatsApp has experienced consistent growth since it was acquired by Facebook last year for $19 billion, in one of the largest deals in Silicon Valley history. In September, WhatsApp said it had more than 900 million monthly active users, twice the number of users it had 12 months earlier.

Updated December 17 at 8:37 a.m. PT: Recast the story to say the WhatsApp suspension has been lifted, which followed the addition earlier in the morning of Mark Zuckerberg's comment.