x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Saudi Arabia regulator plans to ban WhatsApp before Ramadan

The kingdom appears to be making a greater push for more control over cyberspace as internet and smart phone usage soars.

Saudi Arabia plans to block internet-based communication tool WhatsApp within weeks if the US-based firm fails to comply with requirements set by the kingdom's telecom regulator.

This month the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) banned Viber, another such tool, which like WhatsApp is hard for the state to monitor and deprives telecom companies of revenue from international calls and texts.

The kingdom appears to be making a greater push for more control over cyberspace as internet and smart phone usage soars.

"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 today.

Mr Al Darrab said Viber was blocked last week for non-compliance, and that WhatsApp and Skype may be next on the list.

Asked when WhatsApp services would be blocked, the CITC chief said it was highly likely to be before Ramadan which is expected to start on July 9.

The regulator issued a directive in March saying tools such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype broke local laws, without specifying how.

Saudi media reported at the time that Saudi Arabia's three main operators Saudi Telecom Co, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Zain Saudi had been asked to tell CITC if they were able to monitor or block such applications.

Mobile penetration was 188 per cent by the end of 2012, CITC data shows. Saudi Arabia now has 15.8 million internet subscribers and the average user watches three times as many online videos per day as counterparts in the United States, according to YouTube.

Conventional international calls and texts are a lucrative earner for telecom operators in Saudi Arabia, which hosts about nine million expatriates. These foreign workers are increasingly using internet-based applications such as Viber to communicate with relatives in other countries, analysts say.