After banning Viber, Saudi Arabia appears to have set its sights on another popular Internet messenger smartphone application. This time it’s WhatsApp, which could be blocked in just a few weeks unless it complies with local regulations.
The country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is considering banning WhatsApp in the coming weeks, probably before Ramadan, which starts on July 9.
The ban is being considered both because WhatsApp communications are allegedly harder to monitor, and because the service cuts into local telecom companies’ revenue, since it allows users to send messages over the Internet instead of the telephone networks.
“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 said. “We will take punitive action against these applications and services if they do not comply with the regulations.”
The CITC requested that Viber, Skype and WhatsApp set up local servers to allow for easier monitoring, but the companies haven’t complied. Viber was banned at the beginning of June, and the other two services could be next in line.
“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,” Al-Dabban said.
In 2010, the CITC banned BlackBerry’s instant messaging system after the Canadian company refused to build a local server to let authorities monitor its instant messages. The company finally complied, and the ban was lifted.