In spite of recent reports of the UAE plans to lift the ban on Whatsapp calls, it seems that the country - where over 9 million expats reside - has just blocked ToTok, the last free Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service that was available to its residents.
While there has been no official statement in this regard, users have reportedly been unable to find the application on Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store. ToTok was recently offered as the alternative to other services blocked in the country like Whatsapp, Messenger, Duo, FaceTime, Skype, and others.
Users took to social media to express their confusion, especially that BOTIM, a pre-paid service provider licensed by the Emirati government, has announced that it will start providing its services under the brand name ToTok. Users said that they had received messages from BOTIM a few weeks prior encouraging them to download the ToTok app.
In 2017, the UAE blocked VoIP services and recommended that residents subscribe to services like BOTIM and C’ME, which require monthly fees. The UAE’s National Electronic Security Authority has always linked its ban of these applications with the fact that they are unlicensed services, which “falls under the classification of prohibited contents as per the United Arab Emirates' Regulatory Framework.”
Cybersecurity concerns were also often cited in defense of the government’s decision, since the government is unable to access information exchanged through these highly-encrypted applications, which could pose a threat to national security.
However, some experts suggest that the government’s interest lie in the financial revenue gained through often-costly international phone calls via government-owned telecommunication companies like Etisalat and Du.
This could be quite profitable especially that 80% of the population are expatriates who need to call their families and friends on a regular basis. VoIP services that are allowed, like BOTIM, require a monthly fee that ranges between Dh50 and Dh100.
In 2018, reports of talks between Apple and Microsoft and the UAE government emerged, revealing attempts to lift the ban on Skype and FaceTime, with seemingly no success.
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