March 26, 2013- The regulator of telecommunication in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reportedly warned that messaging services that are encrypted such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype, could be blocked.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have demanded a way to monitor the applications, but Saudis complain that would inhibit their means of communication. Newspapers in Saudi Arabia reported that the companies who own the apps were given a week by the government of the Kingdom to respond. No one at the communications regulatory agency would say why the demands have been given.
One Saudi blogger, Ahmed Omran, who operates a site in Riyadh says that telecom companies in Saudi Arabia might be tempted to agree with the regulator’s request, even though their customers would be upset, because of revenue loss they sustain due to the free apps, which have become immensely popular in Saudi.
One source in the country suggested that it might be telecom companies that have been demanding that action be used against the free apps. The latest move is similar in many ways to the attempt to stop the messaging service of Blackberry a number of years ago.
Social media networks have exploded in Saudi Arabia and made a huge impact in the country. The country has the world’s highest take up of Twitter.
Saudis see the new threat differently than others. A move to block or even monitor sites such as WhatsApp and Skype could deprive them of one of their essential means of just communicating with family and friends. Outsiders, on the other hand, see it as a means of stopping the Saudis from freely expressing themselves publically on politically on social issues.
One user in Saudi Arabia said she would be uncomfortable talking with relatives on Skype without wearing her hijab, which is her headscarf, if she thought someone could be monitoring the conversation.