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Saudia Arabia threatens ban on WhatsApp and Skype, following Viber blockade

Less than a fortnight after blocking VoIP and messaging app Viber, the Saudi Arabian government has reportedly revealed plans to ban communications tool WhatsApp.

Abdullah Al-Darrab, the governor of Saudi Arabia's Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) cited difficulties with monitoring the application, which is used by around 250 million people worldwide, as the main reason for the possible suspension.

"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," Al-Darrab told Arab News.

The CITC is also unhappy with the fact that free services like WhatsApp and Viber deprive native telecommunications companies of revenue from international calls and texts.

An April study released by analyst group Informa said that over-the-top (OTT) messaging has already overtaken SMS, and will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

"We will take punitive action against these applications and services if they do not comply with the regulations."

According to Al-Darrab, the WhatsApp ban will come into play on 9 July – one week before the start of the holy month of Ramadan – if negotiations remain stagnant.

Viber, which has around 200 million users, was blocked in early June for similar reasons, and it looks like the Saudi Arabian authorities are pushing for more control over the web as a whole. Skype could be next under review, after a spokesperson for the CITC said "Appropriate action will be taken against applications or services that do not comply with regulations."

Canadian firm BlackBerry endured similar issues in Saudi Arabia in 2010, but managed to avoid a ban on BlackBerry Messenger by agreeing to meet the government's terms.