From Russia With Crypto: A Political History of Telegram


Nathalie Marechal, University of Southern California


This paper offers a political history of Telegram, a platform that combines aspects of social networking with secure messaging, and whose vocal commitment to user privacy and freedom of expression has brought it into open conflict with a number of governments, most recently in Iran and Russia. A detailed project history traces Telegram’s roots to Pavel Durov’s ouster from Vkontakte, the social networking site he had founded, at the behest of the Kremlin. The paper then analyzes Telegram’s ideology and politics by focusing, in turn, on Telegram’s emergence in the context of Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on technologically-enabled civil society; on Pavel Durov’s cyber-libertarianism; and on Telegram’s peculiar business model. The analysis shows that while Telegram’s rhetoric emphasizes user security, privacy, and freedom of expression, the company fails to demonstrate that it actually lives up to these commitments. Rather than earning user trust through transparency and accountability, Telegram’s value proposition hinges on blind trust on Pavel Durov’s good intentions and his team’s stated credentials.

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@inproceedings {220215,
author = {Nathalie Marechal},
title = {From Russia With Crypto: A Political History of Telegram},
booktitle = {8th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI 18)},
year = {2018},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug