Hong Kong mobile phone users were left asking “what’s up with WhatsApp” after the messaging service broke down for several hours on Friday afternoon, and many took to social media to voice their frustrations.
By 5pm Hong Kong time, more than 5,000 internet users around the world, from Italy and Jordan to Singapore, Australia and Brazil, had reported problems with WhatsApp to Down Detector, an independent website that records outages of various online and mobile services.
According to the website, reports of problems began at about 3pm and surged from dozens to hundreds by about 4pm.
In Hong Kong, malfunctions such as the disappearance of emoji icons were noticed as early as about 2pm. Users then complained about being unable to send or receive messages. The status of contacts also disappeared from their dialogue boxes.
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WhatsApp Web, a desktop version of the mobile messaging app, was also not working correctly.
Many Twitter users posted that they had been rebooting their phones, or uninstalling and reinstalling WhatsApp in an attempt to restore the functions.
“WhatsApp is down. A billion people look up from their phones for the first time in seven years. Everything seems so modern,” Twitter user “innocent drinks” wrote in a post, which was retweeted more than 450 times in two hours.
At around 5pm, the messaging platform began to resume service.
A Whatsapp spokeswoman said: “Earlier today, WhatsApp users globally had trouble accessing the app for about an hour. This issue has been fixed and we apologise for the inconvenience.”
Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Information Technology Federation, said it was unusual for a tech giant to have a global breakdown.
“Usually a digital service provider has multiple servers. If the one in Asia breaks down, for example, the ones in other places could come to the rescue … There must be some major problems causing a global outage,” Fong said.
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He speculated that sabotage by hackers or overloading of the main system could be reasons for the outage.
“People whose livelihood depends on messaging apps like reporters should use multiple apps. So if one breaks down, their work can migrate to another,” he added.
Launched in 2009, the Facebook-owned messaging tool had about 1.2 billion users across the globe as of September.
In May, WhatsApp users suffered a service outage for several hours while Facebook’s senior management was discussing its quarterly earnings with Wall Street analysts and investors. A spokesperson for WhatsApp later explained that the breakdown was caused by the application itself instead of an external source.