For most of us, services like Microsoft’s Skype seem ubiquitous. However, there are millions of people without access to the communication tool. And not necessarily those in completely closed states or without the technological means.
For example, Saudi Arabia has held a long-time ban on Skype. However, the Gulf State is today lifting the ban it has had on calls being made through online apps. This means that services like Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Viber will be available in the country.
As is usually the case, this is not a blanket lifting. The Saudi government says it will maintain a strong monitoring presence on these apps and will also censor them.
Provided online voice and video call service meet regulatory requirements, they were made available today. So far, Reuters reports Viber still appears to be blocked and WhatsApp online works via wireless network connection only. Skype seems to be working as normal, with the added censorship.
Speaking on Arabiya TV on Wednesday, Adel Abu Hameed, spokesman for regulator CITC said the ban and replacement regulations are about protecting customers. He adds regulations have been created to prevent the laws of Saudi Arabia from being broken:
“Under no circumstances can the user use an application for video or voice calling without monitoring and censorship by the Communications and Information Technology Commission, whether the application is global or local.”
Monitoring and Censorship
CITC has not said how it plans to monitor and censor the services. These are platforms provided by third-party companies not based in Saudi Arabia. For example, it is unclear how CITC could access Skype to be able to censor it.
With WhatsApp, monitoring is more problematic as the service is protected by end-to-end encryption. This means not even WhatsApp can read messages sent by users. It will be interesting to see how the government implements censorship, or whether it is merely a threat.
Low oil prices have impacted the Saudi economy and the country has been forced to seek diversification. Opening communications apps is just one way to help boost business productivity by connecting with the outside enterprise community.