Last updated: 5 June, 2013

Saudi goes after messenger apps

Saudi Arabia shut down Internet messenger application Viber on Wednesday for failing to comply with unspecified regulations, its telecom regulator said.

“Viber has failed to comply with the regulatory conditions… in this kingdom and was stopped from starting up today,” the Communications and Information Technology Commission said.

The CITC also warned that “appropriate action will be taken against other applications or services that do not comply with regulations,” without saying how rules in the ultra-conservative country were being violated. In March, it had told service providers to work with the developers of such applications to “quickly meet the regulatory conditions.”

And it warned of “suitable measures” if providers of messenger applications – WatsApp, Skype and Viber – failed to comply with its rules. Authorities had asked telecom operators to furnish a means of control that would allow censorship in the absolute monarchy, industry sources said.

An industry source said telecom operators were behind the move, accusing Saudi Telecommunications Co (STC), Mobily and Zain of asking the CITC to impose censorship because of the “damage” caused by free applications.

In the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, most Skype applications and Viber calls are blocked, but WhatsApp messenger remains accessible. In 2010, the two Gulf neighbours threatened to ban BlackBerry instant messaging and demanded that the company install local servers to censor the service. Instant messaging services on BlackBerry remain uninterrupted, but it is not clear how far the Canadian smart phone manufacturer went to comply.