Saudi ends year long ban on WhatsApp and Skype

Published:  22 Sep at 6 PM
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Tagged: Australia
Saudi Arabia’s ban on voice-activated protocols including Skype and WhatsApp has now been lifted due to pressure from business users.

Over the past year, Saudis and expats have been unable to use internet-based communications either for business or personal calls to families back home, due to a government-introduced ban. The lifting of the ban comes as a great relief for millions in the Kingdom, but is expected to be bad news for Saudi’s three largest telecom service providers.

Saudi Telecom, Zain and Mobility had seen profits surge because of the ban, due to have officially ended last Wednesday, although reports on Thursday stated several of the services were still unavailable. Skype, owned by Microsoft, WhatsApp, Facebook’s Messenger and Japanese-owned Viber are highly popular and widely used across the Middle East, with the first three believed to have played a huge role in the development of the Arab Spring’s successful battles against dictators in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

According to a spokesperson for the Saudi telecom regulator, new regulations now in place are intended to block illegal content as well as protecting the personal information of users. Reasons behind the lifting of the ban form part of the Kingdom’s reforms intended to diversify its economy after the oil price collapse. Saudi’s telecommunications minister believes digital transformation is the way to kick-start its ailing economy, as this will grow internet-based businesses, especially in the entertainment and media sectors.

Since the ban was introduced, both Saudi and expat business owners have put increasing pressure on the government to reverse their decision. In 2016, one venture capitalist pointed out that 70 per cent of Saudis are under 30 years of age, adding that, in general, younger Arabs are hyper-digital and hyper social, exactly the type of customer who will regularly make use of voice-activated protocols.

To cool conservative fears about internet content, the Saudi government is continuing to place tight controls on pornography, online gambling and even sites showing alcohol advertisements and scantily-clad models.
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