The banning of Viber by Saudi Arabia is just the latest in an ongoing attempt by countries in the region to limit or block the usage of communication applications. The UAE only recently lifted a ban on Skype, and that service is still blocked in Oman. The Saudi regulator of telecom services contends that Viber is difficult for the state to monitor, and that Saudi telecom operators are losing revenue from international calls and text messages. The ban of Viber took effect in early June.
Those who live and work in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding countries in the region are finding ways around this dilemma, primarily through the use of VPN accounts. A VPN allows users to surf the web without disclosing their geographical location. Viber, Skype, and similar services are typically blocked. Using a VPN would encrypt the connection and provide you access to the services blocked.
Why would Saudi Arabia ban Viber?
Those who subscribe to Viber can make calls and chat over the Internet in much the same way as they can over Skype. In addition, certain files can be shared by Viber users. The popularity of services like Viber, Whatsapp, and Skype has increased because the cost of using the service is much cheaper than international smartphone service.
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is a country that still exerts a considerable amount of control over Internet freedom. The state has difficulty exerting that control where Viber is concerned. Concerted efforts are made by the Saudi government to regulate how individuals use the Internet. Some of these efforts are probably in response to security concerns voiced by other nations. The Saudi region has been at the center of much controversy in recent years, and by monitoring the Internet in a strict way Saudi Arabia would seem to be making a good faith gesture on the topic of security concerns.
Some argue that Islamist militants are using social networks and services like Viber to encourage unrest and network amongst themselves. Whatever the reason, it does not appear likely that Saudi Arabia will relinquish control of Internet services and applications in the near future.
Expatriates in Saudi Arabia affected by Viber Ban
One problem with banning Viber and other communication services in Saudi Arabia is that at any given time there are many expatriates working in the country. These individuals hail from the USA, UK, and a host of other nations. In many cases, the most economical way for foreigners working in the region to maintain contact with their home country is through a service like Viber.
Viber allows expatriates to talk to family members at home, send messages, and otherwise communicate without incurring international costs on their smartphones. Many of these individuals are using a VPN account to access services like Viber which are not banned in their own countries. There are over 9 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia, and many of these foreign workers rely on Viber and Skype for essential communication services.
Are Skype and Whatsapp next?
Despite the fact that the UAE has lifted a ban on Skype, it seems very possible that individuals in Saudi Arabia could find themselves unable to access Skype and Whatsapp in the near future. There is no reason to believe that the Saudi government would not take a similar action against these communication applications because they essentially provide the same services as Viber.
Blocking Skype and Whatsapp in Saudi Arabia would be a deathblow for communications services in the region. Skype is currently blocked by Oman, and other countries in the region such as Bahrain are also considering blocking Skype and Viber.
The protection of a VPN
When the Saudi telecom regulator announced the ban of Viber, the agency also hinted that using the applications could be a violation of local laws. This vague reference to illegal activity is a little scary when one considers how easily laws can be created and enforced in Saudi Arabia.
If one were to attempt to access the services, even if a website indicated the service was blocked, there is a possibility that this would be a violation of local Saudi law. The only way to endure anonymity when using Viber in Saudi Arabia is through the use of a VPN account.
A VPN account is easy to obtain and affordable. Windows, MAC, Android, and the iOS all come with a built-in VPN client which allows a user to setup their VPN account on a variety of devices. All that is required are the credentials supplied by the VPN provider and users can begin to access the web securely without revealing their geographical location. Many VPN accounts even allow the user to choose an IP from different areas.
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