- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia bans Viber web communication tool
- Date: 9th June 2013
- Summary: VARIOUS OF SAUDI 'ARAB NEWS' WEBSITE HEADLINE READING (English): 'Skype may go Viber way'
- Embargoed: 24th June 2013 13:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Communications,Politics,Technology
- Reuters ID: LVAE49H2P3GYOMQMIRYXGBXOJQPO
- Story Text: Saudi Arabia's telecom regulator has banned use of the web-based communication application Viber, which is hard for the state to monitor and deprives licensed telecom companies of revenue from international calls and texts.
"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 Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said in a statement on its website.
Viber users in Riyadh appeared dismayed by the news.
"What is next? What is after the ban of Viber? Will they stop the WhatsApp and the other applications? And what is the impact of this ban on society? This must be studied in depth, on the social, financial and security levels," said Mohammed al-Da'ajan, who works for a media production company.
Attempts to use Viber on two different smartphones and to download it onto a computer in Saudi Arabia failed to work on Wednesday (June 5). A message on the Viber website explained the service had been banned in Saudi Arabia.
Viber-user Raeda Rashad said the ban showed it was time to end the reliance on western products.
"I think we have to find alternatives and not just block what already exists. Are we unable to find similar services and programmes that Arab countries can keep under direct security control? Why do we always just wait for international products that we can use, and if it is shut off, there is no alternative," she said.
Viber allows subscribers to make free calls, send instant messages and share files over the internet. CITC did not explain what regulatory requirements and rules it breached, but the kingdom appears to be pushing for greater control over cyberspace as Internet and smart phone usage soars.
Conventional international calls and texts are a lucrative earner for telecom operators in Saudi Arabia, which hosts around nine million expatriates. These foreign workers are increasingly using Internet-based applications such as Viber to communicate with relatives in other countries, analysts say.
"I'm one of those people who are totally dependent on using Viber to call my wife and family in Jordan. Now that Viber has been cut, we have to make international calls, which is very expensive," said Jordanian, Ali Takateka.
Syrian labourer Ibrahim expressed similar concerns.
"Today they announced on MBC that Viber has been stopped. This is a problem for me because of our situation, as we are living in Saudi Arabia. I'm looking now in the telecommunications market for an alternative programme to Viber which performs the same service," he said.
The Saudi regulator issued a vaguely worded directive in March warning that such tools as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype broke local laws, without specifying how.
Local media reported at the time that Saudi Arabia's three main operators Saudi Telecom, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Zain Saudi had been asked to tell CITC if they were able to monitor or block such applications.
CITC did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday or when the earlier announcement was made in March.
In Riyadh's mobile phone stores, many were worried about the potential impact of the Viber ban.
"Everyone uses smart phone devices for Viber and WhatsApp and Tango. If they cut off the service for Viber, WhatsApp and Tango, these devices will become just like the regular devices such as Nokia and others normal devices. Of course, there will be fewer buyers for these phones," said salesman, Ahmed.
Earlier this year, the Interior Ministry's spokesman complained that Islamist militants were taking advantage of social media to foment unrest. However, in a separate interview with Reuters he argued against imposing stricter controls.
Mobile penetration was 188 percent by the end of 2012, CITC data shows. Saudi now has 15.8 million Internet subscribers and the average user watches three times as many online videos per day as counterparts in the United States, according to YouTube.
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