What role did Google’s Play Store play in Viber’s Saudi Arabian blockage?

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Last week it emerged that the Skype(S msft) and WhatsApp rival Viber had found its service blocked in Saudi Arabia because it doesn’t meet local “regulatory requirements and laws.” At the time of writing, there are reports that Viber is back up and running in the kingdom, but Viber CEO Talmon Marco isn’t sure. “Some users say that it is working, others say it is not,” he told me. The team won’t be able to know for certain for a few hours.

So what led to the blockage in the first place? Censorship by an authoritarian state? Probably — based on a 2010 incident in which BlackBerry(s bbry) caved in to Saudi demands, allowing the authorities to bypass the encryption of BlackBerry services in order to spy on their citizens, Marco reckons there’s “a certain weight” to the idea that the Saudis want to do the same with Viber. But no-one has approached the company to request such access, he said.

“It could be that it’s a commercial interest in the disguise of a national security interest,” he added. “I don’t know.”

What does seem to be clear is that the blocking happened at the ISP or carrier level, rather than in one national fell swoop. And, according to Marco, there’s an interesting wrinkle to the way the blocking was carried out. “They’re blocking us in two ways,” he said. “One is obvious: identify that the traffic is Viber and block it. The other one, which is more surprising, is how they are specifically preventing Android users from downloading our app.

“They’re taking advantage of a vulnerability in Google(s goog) Play. When you download an app in any other store, the app is downloaded over HTTPS. With Google Play this is different – all apps are downloaded in clear text. This is a vulnerability [Google] could patch within minutes.”

I’ve asked Google for comment. It seems there’s a lot to be cleared up here, both on a technical level and in terms of motivation – were Saudi operators displaying coordinated aggression against an over-the-top rival to their own communications services, or was there a more sinister censorship push from the government? Time will tell.

15 Comments

Tech hey

Lets clear out some of the myth.

1. Viber is not owned by Israelis company

2. You will have to wait and see if Viber and Saudi authority work out a compromise

3. As states in the article, it is more of a commercial interest to protect local telco companies than national security issue.

4. In the meantime, you can use lots of other apps available. Expel, voypi, sycdo, maaii, net talk, etc

Katy Cruz

i want to use Viber in my cell but now its not working.. i m in saudi arabia plz reply me plz oplz plz plz plz

Katy Cruz

i want to use Viber in my cell but now its not working.. i m in saudi arabia plz reply me what i have to do.

raja

i want to use Viber in my cell but now its not working.. i m in saudi arabia plz reply me what i have to do

aram

is there any viber link to be downloaded for laptop computers?

jhony roket

You can install hotspot shield from google store to run viber in saudi arabia and spotflux for iphone.

AK

Don’t cry for me (…………….??????) Truth is They never loved you.
Everything they do, there is only one motive behind it……MONEY

Ramzi Mourad

I heard it was blocked because is an Israeli company

420

i want to use Viber in my cell but now its not working.. i m in saudi arabia plz reply me what i have to do.

42

they blocked it cuz according to one article viber stores converstaion data on servers that can be used for spying.

Tek Bahadur Gurung

Ahamed Maafi faida in the saudi Arabia blocking viber and skype, Because of it more saudi people and customers are using smart phone

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