Telegram fined €5 million in Germany for lack of options to report illegal content

After accusing Telegram of favouring extremist groups and even proposing to ban it across the European Union, Germany is setting a fine of more than €5 million, accusing the messaging service of not providing effective ways to report and combat extremist activity on the platform.

German authorities argue that Telegram’s discretionary way of providing all the means for encrypted communications that are impossible to monitor and intercept contravenes local and European laws.

“Forced closure of the service would have very serious implications and is clearly a measure to be taken only as a last resort,” says Interior Minister Nancy Faeser in an interview with the German publication Die Zeit. Before such a measure could be taken in the European Union, all other options would have to be exhausted, but “we cannot rule out this possibility categorically.”

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Discussions in favour of banning Telegram started from more or less substantiated suspicions that right-wing extremists were using the platform to stage demonstrations against the government’s COVID pandemic policies, protests that escalated into violence. Authorities are also investigating alleged death threats made on Telegram against Manuela Schwesig, the state premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

News of the fine comes after Telegram administrators were found to have already given user information to German authorities, presumably in an attempt to address concerns about suspected terrorist activity and child abuse. So the fine of “only” €5 million seems more like a warning shot at Telegram, after the platform’s administrators had already shown some willingness to cooperate with German authorities.

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The remaining grievances could be linked to the alleged use of the app to attack politicians, researchers and medical professionals for their contributions to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Telegram has become one of the most important messaging apps for Android users because it works across all devices and platforms. But it is precisely the growth of the platform that seems to have drawn the ire of various regulators, who might otherwise have ignored the uncompromising security policies announced by Telegram’s developers at a time when they were merely aspiring to catch up with rivals like WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger.

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