N. Korea In­sta­gram users told site on blacklist


Warn­ings are ap­pear­ing on In­sta­gram ac­counts in North Korea that claim ac­cess to the pop­u­lar photo-shar­ing app is be­ing de­nied and the site black­listed for harm­ful con­tent.

Open­ing the app with mo­bile de­vices on the North Korean car­rier Ko­ry­olink has re­sulted in a no­ti­fi­ca­tion in English say­ing: “Warn­ing! You can’t con­nect to this web­site be­cause it’s in blacklist site.” A sim­i­lar no­tice in Korean says the site con­tains harm­ful con­tent, though that is not men­tioned in the English ver­sion.

Such warn­ings have also ap­peared when web­sites that link to In­sta­gram are ac­cessed through desk­tops or lap­tops us­ing LAN ca­bles on the North Korean In­ter­net provider. The warn­ings have been ap­pear­ing on and off for at least five days.

Tech sup­port staff at Ko­ry­olink said they were not aware of any changes in pol­icy re­gard­ing In­sta­gram. There has been no no­tice from the gov­ern­ment or from the mo­bile phone ser­vice to its cus­tomers that In­sta­gram has been black­listed. Of­fi­cials with In­sta­gram had no com­ment when con­tacted by The As­so­ci­ated Press. In­sta­gram is owned by Face­book, which is func­tion­ing nor­mally in Py­ongyang.

It was still pos­si­ble to use the app, de­spite the warn­ings, on some mo­bile de­vices. But at­tempts on oth­ers to post photos or view user gal­leries through the stan­dard Ko­ry­olink con­nec­tion have been vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble, sug­gest­ing that some ac­cess was in­deed be­ing ob­structed.

It was un­clear where the block­age was orig­i­nat­ing, how wide- spread it was, whether it was a hack of some sort or if it had any con­nec­tion to a fire on June 11 at a lux­ury ho­tel of­ten used by tourists and for­eign visi­tors in Py­ongyang. Photos of the fire leaked out of the coun­try and were car­ried widely by media around the world. But the fire has not yet been re­ported by the North’s state-run media.

Although the In­ter­net and any kind of so­cial media re­main of­flim­its to vir­tu­ally all North Kore­ans, North Korea de­cided in 2013 to al­low for­eign­ers in the coun­try to use 3G on their mo­bile phones, which gen­er­ally re­quire a lo­cal SIM card to get onto the Ko­ry­olink mo­bile car­rier net­work.

That opened the door for them to surf the net and to post to so­cial media such as Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram. More re­cently, even live- stream­ing video had been posted us­ing the new Twit­ter app Periscope.

Be­sides Face­book, Twit­ter and other so­cial media sites were also func­tion­ing nor­mally. Other web­sites were view­able as usual even on mo­bile phones on which In­sta­gram was not func­tion­ing.

It is es­ti­mated that more than 2 mil­lion North Kore­ans now use mo­bile phones, but with few ex­cep­tions they are not al­lowed to ac­cess the In­ter­net, mean­ing the mo­bile ser­vice is avail­able pri­mar­ily to for­eign visi­tors, res­i­dents and busi­ness­peo­ple in the coun­try.

Photos from the North on In­sta­gram posted by for­eign­ers — though reg­u­lar users are very few in num­ber — pro­vide a rare win­dow on daily life in North Korea. But they have also posed a quandary for North Korean of­fi­cials who are highly con­cerned about the flow of in­for­ma­tion and im­ages in and out of the coun­try.

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