Pavel Durov is the elusive founder behind Telegram, an app that’s found itself at the center of the contentious encryption debate.
Users can message and send files to friends, create group chats with up to 200 members, or opt for “special secret chats” where messages self-destruct.
ISIS terrorists are turning to encrypted underground apps like Telegram to communicate. Laith Alkhouri, director of Research at Flashpoint Global Partners, called it “the new hot thing among jihadists.”
But who exactly is Pavel Durov, the app’s 31-year-old founder? Here’s what we know.
1. He is often referred to as the “Mark Zuckerberg of Russia.”
Prior to Telegram, he founded Vkontakte (called VK) in 2006, a popular Russian social network in Russia that serves as an alternative to Facebook.
2. He’s now a Russian exile.
In 2014, he opted to flee his home country, refusing to comply with requests from the Russian government to turn over data on Ukrainian Vkontakte users. At that point, the government in Russia had taken control of the Internet.
3. He once offered Edward Snowden a job.
When Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum in 2013, Durov proposed he work as a security software developer at Vkontakte. At the time, Durov was filled with pride over his country: “In such moments one feels pride with our country and regret over the course taken by United States a country betraying the principles it was once built on,” he said. (He’s also called Snowden his personal hero.)
4. He thinks other messaging apps “suck.”
That’s why he and his brother, Nikolai, started Telegram in 2013. “To put it simply, it doesn’t matter how many other messaging apps are out there if all of them suck,” he said in an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt in September.
5. He’s more concerned about privacy threats than terrorist threats.
“If you look at the situation statistically and get rid of emotion for a second … the probability that you or me will die as a result of terrorism is almost zero,” Durov told CNN International’s Erin Mclaughlin in September. “The probability that we will get into a car accident is a million times higher than the probability we will suffer as a result of terrorist act.”
6. He thinks the benefit of providing private communications outweighs the costs.
Following reports that ISIS terrorists were using Telegram to communicate, Telegram said that it blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages. Private communications among ISIS members would not be impacted.
But that doesn’t mean that encryption is bad.
“We think that providing this kind of secure private means of communication for the masses for 99.999 percent of people that have nothing to do with terrorism means more than the threat that we see from the other side,” Durov told Mclaughlin, adding that it’s impossible to limit encryption from spreading.
“Terrorists will always find a means of secure communication,” he said.
7. He thinks the “French government is as responsible as ISIS” for the Paris attacks.
Durov wrote that France’s “policies and carelessness … led to the tragedy.”
He said the government takes away money from its people with “outrageously high taxes” to spend that money on “waging useless wars.”
8. He isn’t in it for the money.
Pavel Durov is footing Telegram with a “generous donation” of his own money.
“If Telegram runs out, we’ll invite our users to donate and add non-essential paid options to break even. But making profits will never be a goal for Telegram,” reads Telegram’s FAQ.
9. He’s a world traveler – and a talented photographer.
His Instagram account is filled with gorgeous pictures of landscapes and occasionally photos of himself. Recent photo locations include Finland, Barcelona, San Francisco, New York, and Rome. (Though Durov was raised in St. Petersburg, he spent part of his childhood in Italy.)
10. But he doesn’t call any place home.
“I prefer not to point a needle on the map. I think we should be less dependent on the outdated concept we call countries,” Durov told Mclaughlin.
He doesn’t regret leaving Russia (“I’m really happy that I [left] because the new company is much more successful than the previous one,” he said) but he may go back one day. “I’m not sure I have an intent to go back there on a permanent basis.”