WhatsApp sends Brazil nuts as Latam highlights tech leapfrogging

Corny headline. But there has been a right old tussle in Latam as an estimated 100m Brazilians had their favourite message app temporarily suspended this month when the authorities sought to clamp down on criminals using the service.

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Brazil’s media reports WhatsApp ban as episode highlights tech boom in South

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook whose founder Mark Zuckerberg declared “The idea that everyone in Brazil can be denied the freedom to communicate the way they want is very scary in a democracy.” It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time MZ has to utter such a riposte.

It’s an age-old debate balancing the right to security and freedom of speech. That’s for another day, but  I’ll just say for now I tend to favour my right to life over my right to speak when there’s a genuine (dictators please note: g-e-n-u-i-n-e) violent threat.

The episode also illustrates the huge growth in the use of smartphones in poor and emerging countries. I first became conscious of the power of WhatsApp not in Clerkenwell or Camden, but several years ago in Colombia. Almost everyone I spoke to there connected to me via the service. The same was true in Bolivia, Honduras, Paraguay and El Salvador.

No wonder Zuckerberg blew $19bn on buying it in 2014. Its wildfire growth then was a symptom of the rocketing takeup of digital tech fuelled by cheap smartphones, low fixed broadband use and a rampant desire to network.

It was also another important reminder of how, over the ages, the “South” has leapfrogged the “North” in so many tech advances and takeup.

Other examples include solar energy development, use of salt-and-water fuelled lamps and 3D printing to manufacture hearing aids or agricultural tools in remote areas locally.

I think 3D printing is going to be even bigger than the internet. Imagine having your car in 2o66 made in your local 3D depot. You pay for your custom design from BMW, Lexus or Mercedes who give you a password, you give it to the guys at the neighbourhood 3D depot who are paid to complete the job using the raw materials and “printers” they have there. It’s got to be more efficient and greener than transporting finished products over thousands of land and sea miles.

All that will be based on observing developing countries leapfrog the west in such pioneering technology meanwhile.

So, thanks Brazil for reminding me that my northern-centric view of the world is horribly skewed and narrow. Think I’ll WhatsApp a few people with that message.


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