Saudi Arabia has banned its citizens from using Viber, a popular internet messaging app which allows users to send messages, make free calls and share files over the internet.
The app has been banned for an unspecified infringement of the country’s stringent communications regulations. The Communications and Information Technology Commission also warned that “appropriate action will be taken against other applications or services that do not comply with regulations.”
Along with Skype and WhatsApp, Viber received a warning from the same commission March, but so far it is the only company yet to be banned. Viber however, is the smallest of the three services warned, and its banning might be a warning to the other two.
Speculation as to why Saudi wishes to restrict the usage of these networks tends to focus on either business or authoritarian interests. Messaging services like Viber are difficult for authorities to discreetly monitor, and in the wake of 2011’s Arab Spring protests these same services have gained a reputation as tools for protest.
However, the ‘free’ factor of Viber and its ilk might be equally disquieting to authorities, cutting into the profits of government-owned telecoms such as STC (Saudi Telecom Company). STC is the largest telecommunications company in the Arab State region, judged by revenue, employees and market capitalization.
But whether for profits or for control, it’s certainly in the interests of the ruling classes to curb the spread of these free messaging services.