Pirates of Telegram: How the Chat App is the Backbone of the Digital Black Market

Since the end of last year, we've been researching and working in the instant messaging space, taking a lot of time to think through how and why we do what we do on these networks.

One instant messaging app in particular continues to impress us — Telegram.

Telegram hails from Pavel Durov, the founder of “the Facebook of Russia” also known as VK.com or VKontakte. It is by far the most compelling experience one can find on a mobile phone today and shines in a few key areas:

  1. Developer-friendliness: you can quickly build and deploy bots
  2. Security: it has been encrypted since day one and prides itself as one of the most secure platforms around
  3. Media distribution: an unrivalled media experience in-app

The focus on developers has, however, made Telegram the new home for piracy on the internet — from PDFs of books shared in channels with tens of thousands of subscribers to video streams to pirated films for downloading or streaming.

Arguably, the most powerful example is @mustelerobot which claims to be able to find and download any song among 100 million songs on the internet. We tested that claim and it delivered.

Even though we all fully support the lawful purchase of music, we couldn't help but marvel at the experience.

Not only is Telegram a chat app, it's also a news reader, a video player (from which WhatsApp copied their YouTube embedding feature) and a music player— an impressive one at that.

To close, here's a reminder that, as we've said in a previous issue of The Letter N, Telegram pales in comparison to WeChat in China or LINE in Japan. They are juggernauts of messaging with WeChat being a global leader in media and payments and the future of internet paradigms.

You can find more perspective on piracy concerns, including interviews with the administrators of these Telegram channels and groups, in this piece by The Outline.

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