JEDDAH: Sarah Abdullah
Published — Friday 14 June 2013
Last update 14 June 2013 6:02 am
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has announced that it will block WhatsApp before Ramadan if the US-based instant free-messaging application does not comply with the requirements set by the Kingdom’s telecom regulator.
Arab News’ sister publication Al-Eqtisadiah had reported earlier that representatives of WhatsApp have refused to accept the regulatory conditions issued by the CITC.
“We have been communicating with WhatsApp and other similar communication platforms to get them to cooperate and comply with the Saudi telecom providers, however nothing has come of this communication yet,” Abdullah Al-Darrab, governor of the CITC, told Arab News in a telephone interview.
Al-Dabban added that Viber was blocked last week for its noncompliance, while WhatsApp and Skype are next on the list, warning: “We will take punitive action against these applications and services if they do not comply with the regulations.”
Asked when WhatsApp services would be blocked, the CITC chief replied: “It is highly likely before Ramadan.”
Al-Darrab said the CITC has requested communication platforms that provide services via the Internet to establish a local server to enable the Kingdom’s telecom regulator to monitor user activity.
“We gave them a week to comply and have been communicating with them since March to no avail. Therefore, this has left us with no choice but to block these services, beginning with Viber,” he said.
Founder and CEO of Viber, Talmon Marco, has reportedly said that Viber is currently working on overcoming the block.
Nonetheless, residents in the Kingdom have said that news of blocking Viber and threats to sever other applications are unacceptable and threaten the Kingdom’s advancement in global technology and modernization.
“I understand that they want to be able to monitor all types of communications, but the CITC must realize that they can’t just cut Saudi residents off from the rest of the world by blocking new services,” Nourah Farida, a Saudi businesswoman, told Arab News. “This is because Viber, Skype and WhatsApp are used for personal and business communication.”
Farida concluded that she usually conducts weekly coanference calls via Skype with colleagues in the UAE and other countries and that blocking these services is expected to incur heavy costs on local businesses.
“How are we supposed to communicate globally, are we expected to go back to using text messages and e-mails?” she asked.
In 2010, the CITC threatened to ban BlackBerry’s instant messaging service, requesting that a local server be established to monitor activity. Eventually, the ban was lifted after BlackBerry’s creator, Canada-based Research in Motion (RIM), complied with the regulatory requirements.