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Censorship Communications Government The Internet

Saudi Arabia Set To Ban WhatsApp, Skype 122

Posted by timothy
from the and-clear-envelopes-only-please dept.
Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia's government, after banning Viber within the kingdom, is poised to prohibit at least two other such communication apps: Skype and WhatsApp. Says the article: "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." With fewer legal options, a wide-scale Internet censorship regime would be easier to implement, too.
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Saudi Arabia Set To Ban WhatsApp, Skype

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  • Popularity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 17, 2013 @02:23AM (#44026805)

    My roomate is from Saudi and he has mentioned to me on several occasions that WhatsApp is incredibly popular there. Everyone he knows uses it, including older family members. Banning something so popular would upset a lot of people...

    • Re:Popularity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Camembert (2891457) on Monday June 17, 2013 @03:16AM (#44026953)
      Not exactly a comment on the original story, just saying that Whatsapp is also tremendously popular here in South-East Asia. I use it very often, It is a popular and easy solution to set up group discussions, transfer pictures etc. I had already read in newspapers that telcos here are not so happy about its popularity but luckily there is little that they can do about it.
      • ...telcos here are not so happy about its popularity but luckily there is little that they can do about it.

        Exactly. I don't really see how they think they can prevent people using Skype or Whatsapp.

        • Easy - Saudi already has a national firewall filter thing. They just add Skype and Whatever else to the block list.
        • > I don't really see how they think they can prevent people

          That's easy:

          Only cowards use censorship.

  • Surveillance state (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vikingpower (768921) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [sulossuticrexe]> on Monday June 17, 2013 @02:24AM (#44026811) Homepage Journal
    When a regime begins using such methods as these in order to keep sitting in the saddle, its days are counted. After the demise of Saudi Arabia's current regime, within a foreseeable time now, the ensuing chaos will be unimaginable.
    • by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:33AM (#44027175)
      Don't underestimate the Saudi regime. It's not it is new to oppression. They are experienced. These steps make organising by the mass harder.
      • by rioki (1328185)

        I am not sure if this is an attempt at censorship. This smells more like a case of the government helping out with corporate interests.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We now know that Skype is accessible from PRISM, and thanks to the Senator we know that they don't need a warrant, every analyst can spy on any phone the country on a whim. The same classification for voice intercepts is for VOIP content, and we also know that Skype surveillance is point and click from the PRISM leak.

      So NO COUNTRY SHOULD PERMIT SKYPE, any NSA analyst can intercept it simply on a whim with a point and click.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/us-intelligence-mining-data-from-nine-us

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        So NO COUNTRY SHOULD PERMIT SKYPE, any NSA analyst can intercept it simply on a whim with a point and click.

        I only use Skype for the communications which I want the NSA to listen into, to mislead them as to what I'm really up to.

    • by khallow (566160)

      After the demise of Saudi Arabia's current regime, within a foreseeable time now, the ensuing chaos will be unimaginable.

      I don't really have any trouble imagining the supposedly unimaginable. From the rest of the world's point of view, it'll be a considerable disruption of global oil supply possibly with a bit of domino toppling of neighboring governments over subsequent years. In other words, the mid to late 70s revisited.

    • Meh, it's easy to imagine it. Just look at Arabia between 1900 and 1925. A mess of tribes all vying for control. And sooner or later one will get up and take over.

    • When a regime begins using such methods as these in order to keep sitting in the saddle, its days are counted. After the demise of Saudi Arabia's current regime, within a foreseeable time now, the ensuing chaos will be unimaginable.

      The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not 'beginning' to use such methods. Repression is the rule there and always has been.

  • Why.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 17, 2013 @02:31AM (#44026839)

    I don't see you yanks spreading freedom in the saudi?

    • by nickmh (2496180)
      Your kidding. The yanks (in fact the entire so called "Free" world) are coming to realise their freedoms have been white-anted as well. Not long now... tick tick tick
    • Consider learning then. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudi_Arabia%E2%80%93United_States_relations [wikipedia.org]
      They let the US build air bases there (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Army_installations_in_Saudi_Arabia)
      They public support US, and the US has a good economic relationship with them. You want the US to invade over them threatening to ban an App? after they just sold a 60billion$ arms package to them! The US would lose soldiers to their own weapons, how do you

    • I don't see you yanks spreading freedom in the saudi?

      That's because we're too busy suppressing freedom in our own country.

      Ah, and because we like Saudi oil.

    • We're busy working on a reason to drop "freedom gifts" on Iran and Syria.
    • The spice must flow ...

  • looks like its time for another payment from Microsoft!

  • Skype with M$/NSA at the helm is not better.

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Monday June 17, 2013 @03:03AM (#44026929)

    This has been going on for a long time - Skype was banned or crippled in the UAE for a long time, but recently unblocked:

    http://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/technology/2013/04/08/Etisalat-unblocks-Skype-website-in-the-UAE.html [alarabiya.net]

    At the time, it was more about securing revenue from the lucrative expat market than locking-down protest movements.
    Of course, these latter do exist, but less so in Saudi & UAE than, say, Egypt.

    I guess this latest move will just drive more interest in alternatives, which are often 'open' and perhaps more secure...

    http://www.pidgin.im/ [pidgin.im]

    http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/fed-up-with-skype-here-are-6-of-the-best-free-alternatives/ [makeuseof.com]

    • Those subversive open source alternatives! They keep cropping up - regimes around the world are going to have to ban open source!

    • by jma05 (897351)

      The problem with the current open source alternatives is that while they cover all desktop platforms, they don't do mobile messaging, much less cross-platform mobile messaging.

      • bullshit.

        pidgin, and libpurple(the underneath library), are simple multi-IM clients that let you use one, easy to use, powerful IM client on any network, with any protocol.

        This is great because it puts you in charge, rather than your instance messaging services and allows for universal plugins and features, like encryption across platforms, both on your computer and services on the internet.

        pidgin has been widely ported, and the libpurple(all the functionality, of pidgin without the interface), even more p
        • by jma05 (897351)

          Does Pidgin have an iOS implementation or a BlackBerry implementation? I sure can't find a libpurple implementation in AppStore on a quick search (don't have a BlackBerry, so no idea).

          > libpurple has an android port. So whatever interface you make, will have all the same back end as pidgin, and all the same features like an OTR plugin.

          I am not sure what you are getting at here. Libraries are useless for consumers. They want apps. They are not going to make interfaces. Which libpurple based apps can I rec

  • by trawg (308495) on Monday June 17, 2013 @03:15AM (#44026951) Homepage

    Apropos of absolutely nothing, here's some open source alternatives that also offer encryption (YMMV on how robust the encryption is).

    - Jitsi [jitsi.org] (formerly SIP Communicator) is an audio/video and chat communicator that supports protocols such as SIP, XMPP/Jabber as well as a bunch of other protocols. Set up an XMPP server wherever you want and you're done. (I tried to set up Jabber to use with it on a Linux box on the weekend though and hit a few roadblocks, but more tech savvy people can probably power through them.)

    - Mumble [sourceforge.net] - voice communications, intended primarily for gaming but will work with anything. Run your own voice servers and clients connect in, a la TeamSpeak/Ventrilo.

    - RetroShare [sourceforge.net] - decentralised p2p file sharing and messaging system.

    • I've been writing my own. Not because I expect it to be used, but because it's a good way to learn how these things work.

      • I've been writing my own. Not because I expect it to be used, but because it's a good way to learn how these things work.

        And easier than getting Ekiga properly configured.

        • My little project is actually quite fun. The clients authenticate each other via public key (4096-bit RSA), so there is no central authentication or identity server. The control packets are all essentially random if you don't have both the keys (sender's public and recipient's private) to decrypt them with, so even DPI couldn't identify and block the protocol. I need to get a real crypto expert to look through the design and make sure I've not missed anything obvious (Cryptography is an easy thing to do bad

          • by jonwil (467024)

            Now THIS is an idea I have had for a while but lacked the skills (and time) to implement. Basically an IM client which does not log anything to disk by default (so there is nothing for anyone to recover about what was said or who was talking, great if you are in a country where the secret police like to seize the computers of suspected dissidents).

            As difficult as possible to detect and block. Full end-to-end encryption with unique session keys (so even having the secret keys of all participants in the conve

  • by Camael (1048726) on Monday June 17, 2013 @03:46AM (#44027025)

    Q: Why would Saudi Arabia ban communication tools such as Viber, Whatsapp and Skype?

    A: Because they have no control or access to the messages passed with these apps.

    According to TFA, Viber was blocked for non-compliance, and that WhatsApp and Skype may be next on the list. What is most interesting is that the regulator issued a directive in March saying tools such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype broke local laws, without specifying which laws.

    What we do know is that in 2010, Blackberry was also banned by Saudi Arabia [techcrunch.com]. The reason behind the ban was because BBM did not allow their customers' exchanges to be monitored by government. The ban was lifted after BB made a deal with the government to share user data.

    Skype, Viber and WhatsApp AFAIK do not share their user data (for now).

    Why has Saudi Arabia become emboldened to act now? Because the disclosure of the PRISM program makes them immune from international criticism. They can rightly point out that the US government already has access to the data. It shouldn't take long for other countries to follow suit with similar demands.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They may simply be trying to protect their citizens from PRISM. At least some of who may be engaging in activities that would be embarrassing to the Saudis if the US found out...

    • by gsslay (807818) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:31AM (#44027165)

      QFT. Mod parent up.

      Why has Saudi Arabia become emboldened to act now? Because the disclosure of the PRISM program makes them immune from international criticism. They can rightly point out that the US government already has access to the data. It shouldn't take long for other countries to follow suit with similar demands.

      All countries involved with PRISM have waved goodbye to any moral high ground they ever had any claim to. They're monitoring private communications exactly like the worse of any repressive regime. And before anyone takes issue; I'm not saying they are as bad as a repressive regime, but that they have given all repressive regimes an easy and justifiable defence for their activities. Why should the US have access to data on their citizens that they don't?

      Whether the governments of countries involved in PRISM care that they've lost the moral high ground is another matter. But you'd think their citizens would. Perhaps all governments are fine with the monitoring actions of the others. Universal monitoring would make all their jobs easier.

      • by TWiTfan (2887093)

        Just because we are citizens of a country whose government commits wrongs doesn't mean we should just ignore every wrong committed by every other government in the world. We can still condemn BOTH, you know.

      • My kingdom for mod points. It is rare that an item needs to be +6 or higher and this is one of them. :(

    • by stud9920 (236753)

      Q: Why would Saudi Arabia ban communication tools such as Viber, Whatsapp and Skype?

      A: They encourage prostitution

    • Just FYI, the main law is being broken is that the VoIP providers are unlicensed telecommunications providers.

      In order to be a licensed telecommunications provider, your company must meet certain ownership requirements and comply with government oversight.
      Part of the government oversight is the tariffs charged. Part of the ownership requirements ensures profit for the country.

      Since the infrastructure to provide the internet is subsidized by international minutes (remember where the content, and where Saudi

    • The trend is, more and more, towards secure communications (eg last big change was google search, all https).
      After banning some apps, then mobile phones, then tablets, then... from what point people of SA will start to complain?
    • Q: Why would Saudi Arabia ban communication tools such as Viber, Whatsapp and Skype?

      A: Because they have no control or access to the messages passed with these apps.

      According to TFA, Viber was blocked for non-compliance, and that WhatsApp and Skype may be next on the list. What is most interesting is that the regulator issued a directive in March saying tools such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype broke local laws, without specifying which laws.

      What we do know is that in 2010, Blackberry was also banned by Saudi Arabia [techcrunch.com]. The reason behind the ban was because BBM did not allow their customers' exchanges to be monitored by government. The ban was lifted after BB made a deal with the government to share user data.

      Skype, Viber and WhatsApp AFAIK do not share their user data (for now).

      Why has Saudi Arabia become emboldened to act now? Because the disclosure of the PRISM program makes them immune from international criticism. They can rightly point out that the US government already has access to the data. It shouldn't take long for other countries to follow suit with similar demands.

      Or it might be to kill free competition for STC (the incumbent telephone company owned by the government...the government being the Royal family).

    • According to previous posters this has been in the works for a while and publically discussed.
  • by stenvar (2789879) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:04AM (#44027077)

    You can chat over any TCP connection. You can chat through HTTP on a web page. Short of banning all Internet connections and all web access, they can't even come up with a legal definition that kills online chatting, let alone police it.

    • You can chat over any TCP connection. You can chat through HTTP on a web page. Short of banning all Internet connections and all web access, they can't even come up with a legal definition that kills online chatting, let alone police it.

      'You' in the generic sense can, 'you' in the 'a given user' sense is much less likely to be able to. 'You' in the sense of 'a given user who is using a locked-down device that he can't even add non-approved software to' is even less likely.

      Absolutely effective bans are pretty hard. Breaking things hard enough to keep the clueless from having them is substantially easier.

  • E-mail, facebook messaging, google talk, yahoo messaging ... They have no clue about technology!
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Many may not have a huge traction in that part of the world or be interceptable with expensive commercial solutions.
      Other companies might have demonstrated how their messages and emails are exchanged and thus encrypted communications are now available to regional security agencies.
  • What about a decentralised app that uses end-to-end encryption, packets masquerading as something else and maybe a dose of onion routing for good measure? Would they have a go at blocking that as well? Exactly how Orwellian are these guys?
  • by purnima (243606) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:38AM (#44027201)
    western expats or the Saudi nationals. They are worried about the millions of Asian workers, maids, drivers, cleaners who are treated like slaves. You don't have effective control over slaves if you let them communicate with their family whenever they want. Saudi Arabia is a hell hole for millions of people who have sold themselves into effective slavery, and the US government treats the place like its main ally in the region. Something about American history tells me it's a natural alliance.
  • This impulse, that all money and resources were required to support one state-run system, and so outlawing competition was warranted, was commonly accepted throughout the West for much of the 20th century.

    It still exists at the core of the promoters of single-payer medicine and public schools, where some dislike vouchers following students.

    So don't lift your noses too quickly into the air.

  • I am SHOCKED (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dskoll (99328) on Monday June 17, 2013 @06:15AM (#44027479)

    I am shocked that a country that forbids women to drive, kills young girls for fear they may be dressed immodestly [wikipedia.org], bans Barbie dolls [wikipedia.org] and amputates the hands of thieves [wikipedia.org] would stoop to such barbaric behaviour!

  • This is Saudi Arabia. Anyone who knows anything about how that government works should only be surprised that they didn't do this long ago.

  • A government becomes greater when its people are stronger, smarter, faster.
  • I am from the UAE. What the Saudi Government plans to do does not appears to be because they want to protect mobile operators revenues. It is rather because these two applications are quite popular among the Saudis and are difficult to monitor (unlike, say, Twitter). I have seen quite a few messages about corruption in the country being first spread through such applications.

    As to those posters who immediately link this to Islam. Grow up please. This is just a dirty old patriarchy and such censorship has

  • Perhaps we should actively obstruct their communications to Saudi Arabia? Sounds preposterous doesn't it?

  • Does anyone know if WebRTC [wikipedia.org] is working well enough to be a viable alternative?

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