Saudi authorities in March warned Viber and other encrypted messaging services that they would be blocked unless they provided a means to to be monitored.
The fact that Viber’s free phone and text messaging service is no longer working in the country is not entirely unexpected. The Saudi telecoms regulator had warned the firm – along with Skype and Whatsapp – that they would be blocked if they did not agree to be monitored.
Mr Marco said that Saudi internet service providers and mobile operators started asking for information about the internal workings of the service a couple of months ago.
“We assumed that the reason they wanted it was to try to figure out ways to tap into our conversations, listen to what our users are saying, read messages, Not that understanding how the system worked would have have helped them – but we did not provide them with the data,” he said.
Viber had faced similar moves to block it in Iran. There, he said he believed the motive was political, but in Saudi Arabia it was unclear whether commercial interests might also be at stake.
For now, neither Skype nor Whatsapp have been blocked in Saudi Arabia.
Millions of expatriate workers there also increasingly rely on free messaging services to stay in touch with their relatives, whom they may not see for years. Both Saudis and expatriates in the country have reacted to the block on Viber with considerable apprehension.
But Mr Marco offered reassurance, saying that his company was already working on a way to get past the block. He said that Viber’s experience in Iran had given it valuable experience in dealing with the problem and he expected to have the first stage of a workaround ready within a couple of weeks