Disowned! Desperate to retain its consumer base, Viber tries to zealously distance itself from Israel
Despite the fact Viber founders Talmon Marco, Igor Magazinik, Sani Maroli and Ofer Samocha, and its investors, the Shabtai family and Adv. Raphael Rebhan, are all Israeli, and even though the company has a small, 40-person development center in Israel, the company has always tried zealously, as far as possible to hide its connection to Israel.
Other than once, a year ago, Viber CEO Talmon Marco has stubbornly declined to be interviewed by the Israeli media. In the past, “Globes” has approached Viber Israel's public relations department to interview the CEO, but they declined. It is safe to assume in other unreported instances as well, the reason for the company’s refusal to be interviewed was the same: Marco wanted to hide the fact that the company has Israeli roots.
Though Viber is registered in Cyprus, its founders are Israelis, who served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and so are the investors. Despite this, Viber tries to avoid contact with the Israeli media, claiming that the company has many users in Arab countries, and that a connection of this sort could lead to a boycott of the popular app. According to company data, 43.5% of Viber users are from the Middle East and Asia. Overall Viber has 300 million users, with 33% active every month.
Several websites and blogs in the Arab world have attempted to tie Viber to Israel's Mossad, and have tried to scare users from downloading the app out of fear that calls made using the app would be traced. It is hard to find many Israeli tech entrepreneurs these days that are ashamed of their origins, but it seems that for Viber things are completely different. In fact, they have never apologized for their conduct but rather tried harder to disassociate themselves.
When one blog made their lives difficult and said that the service was blocked in a number of Arab countries, including Lebanon, due to the company’s Israeli background, Viber responded (several months later) that, “Viber was blocked, not because it has roots in Israel, but rather because it threatened the revenue of local mobile carriers.” Last month, in the throes of Viber's sale talks, Viber tried to deal with blocked service issues in Iran and Pakistan, apparently unrelated to the company’s Israeli roots.
And, still, the company continues to shake of its Zionist roots. “We never took one dollar from the State of Israel,” said Marco in an interview he gave to the British newspaper “The Guardian” last August. “We are not incorporated in Israel. We have one R&D center in Israel, and that is all.”
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