After months of threats that the Saudi government could forbid cell phone telecommunications apps, the telecom regulator announced that popular calling app Viber has been officially banned.
Skype and WhatsApp, a messaging service, have also been threatened.
For more on telecommunications in Saudi Arabia, see:
- Zain Saudi Arabia Facing Massive Debt
- Saudis Spend $2B on Mobile Phones
- Saudi Mobile Use Down on New SIM Rules
Similar to Skype, Viber allows users to make free phone calls, send messages, and share files over the internet. The app’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past year, but when subscribers in Saudi Arabia tried to use it yesterday (Wednesday) they were faced with a message from Viber saying the app was no longer available in Saudi Arabia.
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said that telecommunications applications are forbidden since they prevent the state from monitoring activity and take revenue from international calls away from local companies.
The CITC said in a statement, “The Viber application has been suspended…and the (regulator) affirms it will take appropriate action against any other applications or services if they fail to comply with regulatory requirements and rules in force in the kingdom.”
The regulations that Viber failed to comply with have not yet been specified, but Saudi media reported that CITC warned Viber in March and requested that it install a server allowing authorities to monitor user activity.
The change is not completely surprising since CITC threatened to do just this, citing Viber, WhatsApp, and Skype as the primary offenders. The move benefits local Saudi telecom first such as Saudi Telecom Co, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily), and Zain.
Many Saudis oppose the rule, saying it amounts to censorship and will undoubtedly reduce entrepreneurship and telecom innovation in the kingdom.
Other countries in the Gulf, particularly the UAE, have been filled with rumors of similar decisions and many features of Skype and Viber were turned off. However, recent news that Skype users in the UAE could face fines and jail sentences was quickly refuted.