CITC Denies Blocking WhatsApp and Skype

For the second time in less than two weeks, Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology (CITC) had to deny media reports that it was going to block messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype.

Financial daily al-Eqtisadiah reported on Thursday that the newspaper has learned from “reliable sources” that Saudi authorities will announce today their decision to block the popular messaging apps.

“Sources indicated that Saudi Arabia is about to block WhatsApp and Skype, especially that telecom providers in the country waiting for the decision are ready to impose the blockage immediately,” the newspaper said.

However, CITC used its Twitter account to deny the story in the newspaper. “CITC emphasizes this report is incorrect,” the regulator said.

Al-Eqtisadiah said the regulator has held negotiations with the makers of WhatsApp in California, but the US-based company has refused requests by CITC to meet its conditions and requirements.

Last month CITC blocked Viber, another instant messaging app, saying it has failed to meet the regulatory requirements of Saudi Arabia, adding that other apps like WhatsApp and Skype are being put under review and could be blocked soon.

WhatsApp, often dubbed the “granddaddy of messaging apps,” is said to be extremely popular in Saudi Arabia. If the government decided to block it, such decision could result in a wide backlash.

Photo courtesy of Javier Domínguez Ferreiro via Flickr

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Saudi Arabia to Block WhatsApp Soon, Newspaper Says

Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) will shortly block messaging app WhatsApp, the daily al-Hayat reported on Sunday. The newspaper said it was informed by senior sources at the regulator that the move to block the popular app comes after negotiations with WhatsApp makers to meet regulatory requirement in the Kingdom reached a dead end.

Local media reported earlier this year that CITC has requested from telecom companies to find ways to monitor encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype. If communication through these apps cannot be monitored then they should be blocked, the newspapers said. There has been much speculation since then over if and when CITC will block apps.

On June 5 CITC blocked Viber, another instant messaging app, saying it has failed to meet the regulatory requirement of Saudi Arabia, adding that other apps like WhatsApp and Skype are being put under review and could be blocked soon.

The report in al-Hayat carried criticism to CITC, not for taking steps to block apps but rather for failure to encourage the local software industry to develop alternative messaging apps that can be controlled by authorities here, citing examples in China where users behind the Great Firewall use local apps like Weibo as alternatives for Twitter.

UPDATE: CITC denied the report in al-Hayat, saying via Twitter that the Comission has not made any statement to the media about blocking WhatsApp.

Photo courtesy of Luis via Flickr

Saudi Regulator Wants to Know if Telecoms are Ready to Block WhatsApp

Saudi Arabia’s telecoms regulator, the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC), has sent a letter to service providers in the country asking them if they have the technical capacity to block popular instant messaging app WhatsApp, the daily al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

“The three companies (STC, Mobily and Zain) will respond positively to CITC request,” an unnamed source at one of the telecoms told the newspaper. The source was described by al-Hayat as a “technician” who said while CITC has asked about the ability to block WhatsApp, the regulator has not asked telecom companies to block it yet. Technically, the companies can block WhatsApp anytime they want and anytime CITC asks them, the source said.

On June 5 CITC blocked Viber, another instant messaging app, saying it has failed to meet the regulatory requirement of Saudi Arabia. CITC has also indicated that other popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype still do not meet these requirements. Those apps are currently “under review,” CITC said.

An American security expert known as Moxie Marlinspike said last month that Saudi telecom Mobily has approached him to help them organize a program to monitor messaging apps. Moxie wrote that Mobily told him they already have a working prototype to intercept messages sent via WhatsApp. Mobily denied asking Moxie for help.

It is still unclear if CITC will go ahead and order the telecoms to block WhatsApp as such decision is likely to cause a negative backlash by the Saudi public considering the great popularity of the messaging app. A source at one telecom company told Riyadh Bureau last month they estimate the number of WhastApp users in Saudi Arabia to be around 12 million out of 28 million population.

Photo courtesy of Simon Q via Flickr

‘Just an Inconvenience’

Eman al-Nafjan on the blocking of Viber:

In the long term it doesn’t really matter how many applications are blocked or what reason they’re blocked for. Early on, Saudi persistence and desperation has broken down all blocks.

Censorship does not work anymore. If people wanted access to something, they will find a way to get there.

Viber Vows to Circumvent Saudi Block

Talmon Marco, founder and CEO of Viber Inc., told Arab News in an exclusive interview that his company will find a way to avoid Saudi Arabia blocking its messaging services.

“We will not rest until the service has been restored in Saudi Arabia,” Marco said.

He added: “We are developing technology that will circumvent this block. It will be rolled out in phases. We hope to have the first step in a couple of weeks.”

Saudi Regulator Places Skype and WhatsApp Under Review

Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications regulatory body, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), said in a statement yesterday that it is placing messaging applications Skype, WhatsApp and Tango under review.

The CITC did not say whether the popular messaging applications would also share the same fate as Viber, which was suspended indefinitely last week.

Saudi Arabia Blocks Viber

Saudi Arabia announced that it has blocked instant messaging app Viber. The Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC), the regulatory authority in the country, said the decision to block the app is a followup to their statement earlier this year that they will take “suitable measures” against apps that violate laws of the Kingdom.

“Viber app has been blocked starting on June 5, 2013, because it does not currently meet the regulatory requirements and laws in Saudi Arabia,” CITC said in statement published Wednesday on their website.

Local media reported in March that CITC asked mobile providers in the country to find ways to monitor encrypted messaging and VOIP apps like Viber, Skype and WhatsApp. If these apps could not be monitored then they will be blocked. CITC issued a statement later that month saying “it would take suitable measures against these apps and services” that fail to meet regulatory requirements in the country.

Announcing its decision to ban Viber, CITC reiterated their intention to take measures against other apps and services.

Viber is a cross-platform instant messaging VOIP application for smartphones and desktop computers developed by a Cyprus-based company founded by American-Israeli entrepreneur Talmon Marco. The company has offices in Israel and Belarus. Marco said last month that they have more than 200 million users world wide.