Despite bans in numerous countries, WhatsApp is still incredibly popular. According to Will Cathcard, the head of the messaging platform, tens of millions of users have found workarounds to access the app in countries where it is banned.

Whatsapp has long faced bans in North Korea and Iran, and sometimes in Syria. In this respect, it faces the same fate as many western apps. However, the secure messaging platform easily draws the ire of repressive governments.

In addition, several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Jordan, Quatar, and the United Arab Emerites, only allow versions of the app which restrict users from accessing some features, such as voice calls.

Last month, China joined the party, as it wishes to keep its citizens from communicating over channels that it can’t monitor. It ordered Apple to block WhatsApp downloads for Chinese iPhone owners. Cathcard has called the move unfortunate, but he also admitted that the app has never been very popular in China.

Android users, however, are not so restricted, as Android apps can be loaded on to phone through other means than by visiting the official app store.

Signal and Whatsapp both provide end-to-end encryption for users, so that only the sender and receiver of a message can read its content. In addition to targeting them, China has also banned Telegram—an encrypted social networking and messaging service—and Threads, a microblogging app.

But because Whatsapp uses phone numbers as its user registration numbers, it can tell where its users really are, and Cathcart has revealed to BBC news that the platform has “tens of millions” of active users in countries that ban or restrict the platform. The users are managing to connect to the service through a combination of the use of WhatsApp’s new proxy service, which debuted last June, and the accessibility of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), which have become popular worldwide in recent years.

Cathcart is a major advocate of internet freedom, and has long advocated the export of private Western tech platforms as a key factor in spreading values of liberalism and democracy.