Open source Advent calendar: the Messenger Telegram

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It’s an advent calendar for tech-savvy people. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything is owned by a large internet company. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently verified for possible security breaches and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the motivation for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to the company.


Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding. Some projects are supported by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time staff, or a consortium. The work is done entirely on a voluntary basis, or it is funded through donations, cooperation with internet companies, government funding, or an open source business model. Whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether it is a PC program, an application or an operating system, the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

Telegram resides somewhere in the world nowhere and is funded by an IT patron who is now urgently looking for a business model. The open source project is both a private messenger and a means of mass communication. It is both a free space for members of the opposition in dictatorships and a barely regulated right-wing swamp. The app is loved, hated, criticized and used by hundreds of millions of people.

Telegram is a messaging application for smartphones. But there are also PC programs and a web interface. FOSS telegram is a slightly modified version in the open source F-Droid App Store. In the Play Store, the app ranks in the 1,000,000,000+ category. According to Telegram founder Pawel Durow, the app Beginning of 2021 passed the 500 million user mark. However, the information cannot be verified. Telegram applications are licensed under GNUGPL v2. The telegram data passes through its own network, the autonomous system as62041.

Telegram allows private communication in the form of messages, telephony and video telephony. There are classic chats and groups with up to 200,000 members. And Telegram enables mass communication in Telegram’s “channels” in which the public reads only passively. In addition, automatically communicating bots can be created. Of Witzbot on tells jokes on call and the OpenMensaRobot displays menus in German university canteens.

When creating a profile, Telegram requires specifying and verifying a mobile phone number. By sharing the location of the device, local profiles and groups can be found in the region. This is why Telegram can also be used as a location-based dating app and as a local networking option. (However, many local groups, at least in Berlin, are spammed with the same porn and drug offerings.)

The reputation of the app is similar to the image of the Tor darknet: Telegram is seen as a wild, lawless free space that produces both great and horrible things. This is especially true for Telegram as a medium of mass communication. Telegram is used to order drugs and other items online. In authoritarian countries, opponents organize their communication via Telegram, for example in Iran. In Western democracies, Telegram is particularly popular on the right-wing and conspiratorial spectrum, as the app has so far been largely unregulated – even with anti-democratic and inhuman content. Recently, however, Telegram has occasionally deleted particularly problematic groups.

According to a communication from the founder of Telegram, the app blocked a German group called “Menschenreise_diskussion” with 40,000 members in the fall of 2021. In the was openly called for violence against medical personnel. As on Twitter, official political communication also takes place on Telegram. The SPD launch a bot and the Federal Ministry of Health as good as Government of Baden-Württemberg chain. And various media reflect their content in the app.

Telegram is also controversial in its capacity as a private communication tool (see Heise Security’s article on Telegram as a data protection nightmare). Unlike messaging like WhatsApp, Signal or Threema, messages with Telegram are not end-to-end encrypted by default. This means: Telegram could examine the content of the communication. A “secret chat” with encryption can be set for two-way communication, but this is not possible at all for group chats.

According to Faq and, in more detail, according to a long message from founder Durow, Telegram made a conscious decision against standard encryption. The reason: You want to enable backups and therefore the pursuit of a profile on another device, otherwise you wouldn’t stand a chance in the mass market of messaging.

The story of Telegram founder Pawel Durow gives rise to a first-rate political thriller: in late 2006, he and his brother founded the Russian Facebook clone VKontakte. With its growing popularity, the Russian state has become increasingly interested in the social network. In 2014, there was an escalation. After a search of the company’s headquarters and apartment, Durov left the country in a panic.

Shortly before, he had sold the remaining shares to VKontakte. He and his brother founded the Messenger app in 2013. Telegram indicatedFor having “tried several places”. In 2016, Berlin was said to be the headquarters. The “Welt am Sonntag” took place then, however no proof of thisthat this was indeed the case.

In 2015 Telegram had 60 million users, in 2018 there were 200, two years later 400 million and since Beginning of 2021 there are over 500 million. (If you believe your own statements).

The provider is Telegram FZ-LLC. Which is located in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. An unusual place of political exile: for the organization Reporters Without Borders, the Emirates are a state of surveillance and censorship. Telegram says it is satisfied with Dubai as its headquarters. But wrote that you would move immediately as soon as this changed. The FZ-LLZ telegram can therefore be in the privacy policy read, a subsidiary of Telegram Group Inc. based in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven with many letterbox companies.

There does not appear to be a classic community actively involved in the open source project. Telegram is asking for voluntary help with the Translations as well as with https://tsf.telegram.org/. And Telegram writes the challenges of endowed developers out.

Pawel Durow acts as a patron who funds the application from its assets. Telegram said it had no income until 2020. Reaching a profit was never the goal. End of 2020 Durow wrote that Telegram should finally make some money to stand on its own feet. Before that, he had failed with an idea of ​​large-scale monetization: a virtual Telegram economy was to be created on the basis of the Gram cryptocurrency. Telegram has raised $ 1.7 billion for the early sale of the currency. However, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission shut down the project at the last second. In May 2020 Durow buried the project ultimately.

In October 2021, Telegram shut down an advertising platform before. Since then, companies have been able to book sponsored news internally at channels with over 1,000 subscribers. Durow also sold $ 1 billion in corporate bonds in 2021. The amount of interest he has to pay is not known. Durow also did not disclose who invested in the five-year bonds. A company has emerged from the shadows: Mubadala, a sovereign wealth fund of the United Arab Emirates, had invested 150 million US dollars. Half directly and the other half through a joint venture with an American investment company.

Due to Telegram’s corporate structure, neither ownership structures nor payment flows can be verified. When Durow announced his monetization offensive in late 2020, he wrote that Telegram would actually need “at least a few hundred million dollars a year” to operate. It is not known for sure how much Durov had in his luggage when he left Russia. In Durow’s cover circulating an estimate dating back to 2012, that his VKontakte shares at the time were US $ 260 million. were worth.

News of the 2021 agreement contained interesting additional information: they were so-called convertible bonds. If Telegram goes public, these will be converted into shares. It is therefore possible that the wild open source project ends up on a large exchange in a very classic way. Even if Durow’s private reserves were depleted, there should currently be enough money in the coffers. For the functioning of what is probably the largest open source project in the world, which operates in the global and legal nowhere and is a contradictory and multifaceted handyman: messenger, but also social network, opposition space, period. reloading drug, cosmos propaganda and channel for press releases. Popular, controversial, and – in two senses – pretty darn successful.

The work on the article series is based in part on a grant “Neustart Kultur” from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, awarded by VG Wort.


(mhh)

Disclaimer: This article is generated from the feed and not edited by our team.


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