The Saudi government on Thursday lifted a ban on calls made through online apps but will continue to monitor and censor them.
According to a government spokesman, all online voice and video call services like Microsoft’s Skype, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, and Rakuten’s Viber which satisfy regulatory requirements are set to become accessible overnight.
However, on Thursday, Messenger and Viber appeared to remain blocked.
Adel Hameed, the spokesman for telecoms regulator CITC, said on Arabiya TV that the new regulations were aimed mainly at protecting users’ personal information and blocking content that violated the kingdom’s laws.
“Under no circumstances can the user use an application for video or voice calling without monitoring and censorship by the Communications and Information Technology Commission, whether the application is global or local.”
Act of militancy
Saudi Arabia, alongside its Gulf neighbours, introduced blocks to internet communications in 2013 over fears such services could be used by activists and militants.
Gulf Arab states, except the island kingdom of Bahrain, were mostly spared the “Arab Spring” mass protests which were mostly organised over the internet.
Lifting the ban represents part of the Saudi government’s broad reforms to diversify the economy partly in response to low oil prices, which have hit the country’s finances.
The policy reversal could squeeze Saudi Arabia’s three main telecoms operators -Saudi Telecom Co (STC), Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Zain Saudi- which earn revenue from international phone calls made by the millions of expatriates living in the kingdom.