Internet censorship in Dubai and UAE
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Internet and media censorship in Dubai and UAE
A common perception is that Etisalat (and less often Du) decides what internet censorship policy is in the UAE, and which websites or website categories should be banned. In fact, the TRA (Telecom Regulatory Authority) makes those decisions. The ISPs are responsible for actually implementing the restrictions on offending websites, and the perception that Etisalat is more strict about banning websites is likely to be because there are (were) some areas in the Du Telecom network that have (had) no, or less, censorship of the internet, for example Dubai Media Zone and other TECOM areas. The TRA said in 2008 and 2009 that these areas had to come under the UAE censorship policy though.
For the most part, internet censorship is not overly draconian in the UAE. Certainly, much less so than somewhere like China or Iran for example. It would be rare that any news is censored, even news critical of the UAE. The filtering policy concentrates more on pornography, dating, gambling, and other culturally or religiously offensive internet content. For many families, the blocking of porn might be seen as a plus when considering a move to Dubai.
The most irritating censorship is likely to be the increasing number of Wikipedia pages that are blocked (not anymore since migration to https://); Skype (banned usually but sometimes unblocked) and other VOIP related websites; websites like www.couchsurfing.org (update: accessible in 2013 but seems to come and go); and some search terms related to feline topics (tell your kids to try cat or kitten if they complain) or gambling. One wonders how Dubai World (a Dubai Government owned company) ever managed to find out enough information to feel confident about investing in the Las Vegas casino sector. Then again, had they been able to search more freely on the internet in the UAE, perhaps they wouldn't have lost quite so much money on their gamble ... er ... investment with MGM, the casino operator.
Usually when the UAE authorities block access to a website, a message appears in your browser making it clear why you cannot access the site or page.
- Du message says: "Surf Safely! This website is not accessible in the UAE. ... the site you are trying to access contains content that is prohibited ... "
- Etisalat message says: "This site is blocked ... The site falls under the Prohibited Content Categories of the UAE's Internet Access Management Policy."
For some sites or pages, either a blank page or a Network Error type message appears instead of the "website blocked" message (for example Qatar Airways). No obvious reason found to explain how the UAE authorities or telecom companies decide when to show an error page vs showing an illegal content notification message.
Additionally, some wifi networks have their own filtering policies which also return error pages instead of an explanation.
http vs https protocol and censorship
- Websites using http protocol can have individual pages blocked. For example Wikipedia (until they defaulted to https), and Google (search term results pages were blocked for gambling etc).
- Websites using https can be blocked but it's all or nothing, so now that Wikipedia uses only https, all pages on the site are accessible in the UAE. Similarly for Google and other search engines using https (although dirty or offensive results are still filtered via the forced Safesearch option). This might change if the TRA decides all of Wikipedia or Google should be banned, but this seems unlikely.
Occasionally websites which are blocked when accessed using http protocol are available if the http:// at the start of the URL is changed to https:// (and vice versa), and if the website has not set itself up to use only one or the other protocol.
Skype banned and not banned timeline
- 2019: More news reports that Skype was banned, but that there might be negotiations or applications for Skype to become available (again). Don't hold your breath.
- 2018: News reports announced Skype was banned, implies there was a period of time from 2017-2018 when it was accessible?
- 2017: Skype blocked again in the UAE.
- 2013: Skype became accessible in the UAE sometime in 2013.
- < 2013: Skype (and other VOIP services) banned.
Safe search enabled in UAE for Google, Bing, etc
Update 2018: Sometime in 2017 Etisalat (and Du) started forcing safe-search to be enabled for all users when doing search with Google (at first only .com and .ae, but later other tld extensions such as google.co.uk, google.fr, etc also). Changing region or "turn safe search off" etc has no effect. The restriction did not affect everyone on the same day, the change seemed to be rolled out over a period of weeks or months. So it's not just your mum and dad who can enable parental controls on your computer, ISPs can request or control this also ... who knew? Bing also has dirty-search disabled for internet users in the UAE. Some other search engines don't have country or region level adult content restrictions set ... yet.
- Bing reference: Bing settings page: "Your country or region requires a strict Bing SafeSearch setting, which filters out results that might return adult content."
- Google reference: support.google.com/websearch/answer/510?hl=en "My SafeSearch setting keeps turning on: Your internet service provider (ISP) or network administrator can make SafeSearch stay always on."
List of TRA Prohibited Content Categories (as of March 2019)
- Bypassing blocked content
- Pornography, nudity and vice
- Impersonation, fraud and phishing
- Insult, slander and defamation
- Invasion of Privacy
- Offences against the UAE and public order
- Supporting criminal acts and skills
- Medical and pharmaceutical practices in violation of the laws
- Infringement of intellectual property rights
- Discrimination, racism and contempt of religion
- Viruses and malicious programs
- Promotion of or trading in prohibited commodities and services
- Illegal communication services
- Prohibited Top level Domains
- Illegal Activities
- Upon order from judicial authorities or in accordance with the law
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports on internet censorship in the UAE
- 2010 HRW report on UAE (released 26 Jan 2011) noted that websites that were blocked in 2010 included www.localnewsuae.com, www.uaehewar.net (UAE Hewar) with its discussion forums (topics include freedom of expression and politics) along with its Facebook and Twitter pages.
- "The UAE should take a long, hard look at what happens to governments that suppress the rights of its citizens to speak out or that think they can control the information people share. Tunisians are not the only ones in the Arab world who will insist that no government has the right to trample their rights." - strong comments from Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 26 January 2011 press release. As it happened, Tunisia was not the only Middle East country whose citizens had something to say - Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen all had varying degrees of unrest in February 2011 with Libya in particular descending into what looked like civil war to many observers.
News and updates about internet censorship in the UAE
- 07 June 2012 (Emirates 24-7) - Major General Khamis Matar Al Mazinah, deputy police commander in Dubai, was reported as saying "Twitter and Facebook are not under out [sic - our?] control or censorship because we respect the privacy of people ... we do not want to track their secrets and life details ... Dubai police are only involved in a process of follow up just in case a user commits an offence on his page such as insulting others ... in this case, the user will be identified and prosecuted according to the law."
List of website categories blocked and unblocked in the UAE
General categories (a Gulf News report 28 December 2009 said The TRA list of banned websites include those on gambling, pornography, illegal drugs, voice over internet protocol (VoIP), and those that offer training or information on terrorist-related activities).
Etisalat seems to be more stringent than Du at blocking websites, so if you desperately want to access a website that's blocked when connected via Etisalat, one way is to use a Du connection - visit a friend or coffee shop in a free zone in Dubai for example (Du is often the ISP in Dubai free zones), or try using a Du hotspot.
- Dating and hookup websites are usually blocked, although matrimonial websites seem to be acceptable. Our guess is that the authorities draw the line between a dating website and a matrimonial website based on whether the website encourages baby production activities to take place before or after the wedding. Du seems to be more relaxed about it than Etisalat. Apps such as Tinder and Snapchat (Tinder with silly noses) are accessible. Anyway, human ingenuity when it comes to desire for reproduction being what it is, almost any website with two way interaction seems to be used as a dating website sooner or later ... everyone seems to know of liaisons resulting from meetings on Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Facebook, Linkedin, Reddit, Twitter. We're not sure about Wikipedia, Amazon, Dubizzle, or Ebay yet. Instagram seems to be an online version of a Barsha Heights (Tecom) parking area. Some examples
(try Du if blocked on Etisalat connection):
- Ashley Madision - not blocked (we're surprised).
- Badoo - blocked ... unblocked.
- Bumble - unblocked.
- eHarmony - available.
- Grindr - usually/always banned.
- Luxy (onluxy.com) - available (Tinder for rich people).
- Match.com - blocked ... unblocked.
- misstravel.com - banned ... available, a sugar daddy + baby travel dating website curiously promoted by the Gulf News.
- Okcupid - website blocked ... unblocked (inconsistent), app unblocked.
- POF (Plenty Of Fish) - blocked/unblocked.
- SeekingArrangement - blocked ... available. One version of dating in Dubai, not for the timid though.
- Tinder - website blocked ... unblocked, app (usually) unblocked.
- Zoosk - available.
- Gambling websites - anything to do with online gambling and casinos.
- [Obsolete information if search engine uses https://] ... including trying to search in Google and other search engines with words like gambling, casino. One of the ironies of Dubai is that searching for information about Dubai World's (a Dubai government owned company) tie-up with MGM (a US casino operator) is difficult as a result of the censorship.
- [Obsolete information] Networking sites - some are considered to be "dating" sites by the TRA and blocked for that reason, for example - FaceBook (not blocked), Flickr (unblocked), Friendster (not blocked), Hi5 (not blocked), MySpace (not blocked), Orkut, StumbleUpon (not blocked).
- Pornographic websites and pages. This includes online sites for magazines such as FHM, Maxim, etc even though the print magazines themselves are available in the UAE (with some parts of photographs blacked out).
- Qatar-based websites, mostly news sites have been blocked since the diplomatic and trade embargo which started in June 2017. Notable sites blocked include
- www.alaraby.co.uk, www.aljazeera.com, and many other news websites based in or operated by Qatar. Through 2018 and 2019, blocking was inconsistent. Websites were sometimes available, but mostly showed a network error message.
- www.qatarairways.com (Qatar Airways, QR). Curiously though, the El Al (Israel airline) website is available.
- VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) - cheap phonecalls. See Skype below for more information.
- 2018 Jan - a change.org petition was started, protesting the ban on VOIP services in the UAE. The website change.org was then blocked.
- 2017 Dec - almost all VOIP services blocked in the UAE. Etisalat and du have their own licensed VOIP services which are not blocked, but there is a monthly subscription fee.
- [date??] - some or many VOIP services available in the UAE, including Skype.
- 25 Dec 2010 - Gulf News quoted Rouzbeh Pasha, Skype's Head of Middle East and Africa, as saying "Skype is not in discussions with the UAE's TRA," as a follow up to a March 2009 report that the TRA had said "they [VoIP companies such as Skype] can always approach and collaborate with the licensees to legally provide their services." (Etisalat and Du are the Licensees in the UAE).
- 08 Sep 2010 (Gulf News) - 3 men were arrested for offering cheap international phone calls using VOIP services in Dubai. Major Salah Bu Aseeba, Director of the Department of Economic Crimes at Dubai Police was reported as saying "These types of crimes are very serious, and according to the tip-off the department organised a team to investigate the case,"
- 03 May 2009 - Gulf News reported comments made by Adnan Al Bahar, manager of public relations for the TRA, in reference to the legalisation of VOIP services, who was quoted saying "We are working to regulate it. Currently, we are working on a regulatory framework. It's not finalised yet. It's just taking time because it's not easy to do. ... When VoIP does become legal, only licensed telecom operators will be allowed to provide the service."
- 31 Aug 2006 - Gulf News reported that Skype and other VOIP access (which had been available) was being blocked in Dubai free zones (where Du is the telecom provider), but and email from Du reportedly said "We would like to update you that we have not done any changes in our network to block Skype and/or other internet-based voice applications. We are further investigating this issue with our upstream internet service providers and we will keep you updated on the progress." The report also quoted a Dubai Internet City representative as saying "etisalat is blocking the ports for VoIP, and we got infected. We are negotiating with them to open up access to VoIP again." But Mohammad Najuib, acting manager of corporate communications at etisalat, was quoted as saying "Until now VoIP has not been licensed in the UAE. This issue should be addressed to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)."
- 20 Oct 2005 - Gulf News quoted a statement from Etisalat which said "The Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE has stated that all use of voice over internet protocol telephony in the UAE is illegal. The TRA has instructed Etisalat to block all access to VoIP telephony."
- 04 May 2005 - Gulf News quoted Ahmad Bin Ali, Etisalat's head of public relations at Etisalat, as saying (confusingly) "Internet telephony up until now is illegal to use in the UAE. Etisalat can't make these laws. There's no law." So is there a law or isn't there? VOIP sites were reportedly blocked sometime in April 2005. More confusingly, Abdullah Hashim, Senior Manager of Etisalat's e-Company, was quoted as saying "We are exploring the use of VoIP, but at the moment, PC-to-phone calls are not allowed because we could run into problems with the telecommunication companies in other countries." Um, what problems with other countries?
- 24 Oct 2004 - Gulf News reported that When the New Year comes, residents here may start making international phone calls via the internet without the fear of being penalised, industry officials said. But it wasn't clear exactly what industry officials had said to prompt that report.
- [Update] VPNs (Virtual Private Networks): often blocked. Using a VPN is a legal grey area in the UAE. A VPN is often used to get around blocking of illegal (in the UAE) internet content and VoIP bans, so, any use of a VPN could be considered illegal since TRA guideline #1 of Prohibited Content Categories says "1. Bypassing blocked content: This category includes internet content that allows or helps users to have access to prohibited content including the proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks Services (VPNs) that mainly allow access to the prohibited content on the internet." So if using a VPN for legal content, as many do in the UAE, the phrases "helps users to have access to" and "mainly allows access" could be interpreted as saying any use of a VPN is illegal since they "allow" access to illegal content, even if illegal content is not actually accessed during the use of a VPN. Given that many VPNs are blocked by ISPs in the UAE, it would seem that that is how Etisalat and du interpret the TRA guidelines.
- Posting a link to an unblocked VPN website in a UAE related internet forum or comment-style website (reddit.com for example) often seems to result in the website being blocked shortly after being made public. Indicating that either it's a remarkable series of coincidences, or the UAE ISPs are diligent in monitoring those sites for new websites to block.
- The Gulf News (a newspaper, not a legal firm or a UAE government telecommunication department) in a report on 03 Jan 2018 said "Accessing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) by an individual in the UAE is legal; depending on some terms and conditions." And went on to clarify what those terms and conditions were.
- Websites and pages deemed to be offensive to the UAE religion and/or culture. This might include websites not only critical of Islam, but of other religions also. However, non-critical websites of religions other than Islam are usually ok.
- Websites critical of the UAE - websites obviously devoted to criticising the UAE are often blocked, but isolated pages on other websites are not routinely blocked, especially if from news sources. For example in December 2009, when Dubai was criticised internationally for not being up front about its debt problems after Dubai World announced they wanted an extension to some loan repayments, The Sunday Times print edition was banned in Dubai due to a report showing a montage with an image of Sheikh Mohammed apparently drowning in a sea of debt, but the same article was still available online.
- Websites with Israeli domains (ending in .il) were blocked until sometime in 2009, when the restriction seems to have been lifted.
List of banned websites and apps in the UAE
- 4chan.org - blocked by du and Etisalat. 8chan (8ch.net) also blocked. Probably one of the less controversial website ban decisions in the UAE. Even Google has removed 8chan from search results according to news stories from 2015. Read rationalwiki.org or wikipedia.org pages about 4chan and 8chan if you're curious to know more.
- www.aljazeera.com - blocked in Jun 2017 when trade and diplomatic ties cut with Qatar. As of 2019 it seems to be available again, but other Qatar news websites are not available, so maybe we discovered an internet wormhole between UAE and aljazeera.com. And no, we're not using a VPN!
- www.arabianbusiness.com - blocked temporarily for one month in Jul 2017 for "publishing false news that was based on inaccurate information" according to either a statement from the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA) or an AP report (republished in multiple publications, original not found). Apparently AB recycled old news about Dubai real estate projects being suspended or put on hold or cancelled. Official UAE statements on Twitter (Dubai Media Office and the TRA):
- twitter.com/DXBMediaOffice: "ruled out a report published by Arabian Business &copied by Qatari media about liquidation of real estate projects in Dubai"
- twitter.com/theuaetra: "This website was blocked temporarily for 1 month in accordance with decision of the comptent authority concerning media activities in the UAE."
- www.archive.org - an archive of the internet where you can find old versions of websites. An excellent resource, and thankfully unblocked in 2009 (except for archived pages of blocked websites).
- www.change.org - blocked in Jan 2018 (?), after someone started a petition protesting the ban (from Dec 2017) on Skype and other VoIP applications in the UAE. Attempting to access website usually or sometimes shows a network error instead of the official website blocked page.
- [Update Mar 2019] change.org available again, or inconsistent availability, or depends on area in UAE, or depends on ISP connection used (blocked by Etisalat sounds more common than blocked by du).
- www.change.org/p/etisalat-and-du-stop-blocking-voip-services - the petition that allegedly resulted in the website block. It had almost 17,000 supporters when it was closed.
- www.couchsurfing.org (and www.couchsurfing.com) - blocked again in January 2012 by Etisalat (update April 2012 - unblocked by Etisalat ... for how long, who knows ... enjoy it while it lasts) but still available on Du connections (for example in some of the free zones in Dubai). Was previously blocked in 2008 by Etisalat (but not by Du?). Couch Surfing is a website where people can communicate with other couchsurfers to arrange free hosting when visiting a country, or just meeting up for coffee. CS groups in various cities (including Dubai) and countries actively promote social activities and positive impressions of a country. CS says they are not a dating website but the founder himself ended up dating someone he met through CS, so perhaps the TRA was not convinced of the "not-a-dating-website" part of the CS "About Us" page, prompting the (temporary) ban.
- Discord (and many other voice related apps and websites used for gaming etc) - blocked in UAE, at least for voice communications, text services might be ok.
- www.emiratesleaks.com - (assumed blocked, site shows Network Error not ban message) is either satire, or attempts to highlight controversial issues in the UAE, or attempts to highlight issues in the UAE in a controversial way. Stories reported on emiratesleaks seem to be mostly based on news reported on other (unblocked) sites, so the ban is probably related to the editorial stance which is obviously critical of the UAE. We're not sure if it's a serious website or not though ... some of the headlines sound like they came from The Onion.
- donotflyemirates.wordpress.com and www.donotflyemirates.org - a blog written by an employee (or ex-employee) of Emirates Airline (EK), mostly critical of working conditions at EK. Blocked sometime in 2014 or 2015? A somewhat pointless ban since overseas job applicants can still access the website, and most people living in the UAE have a pretty good idea of what it's like to work for EK. Might be available via Etisalat but not Du.
- [Not banned, or banned, or offline?] www.dubaicameljockeys.org - website existed briefly from 2007-2008. Information about the history of "underage jockeys in camel racing" in the UAE, the stopping of the practice (banned in 2002 or 2005), the care and repatriation of those children, the accusations of slavery, the Ansar Burney Trust, the lawsuit in the USA (it was dismissed).
- FaceBook (www.facebook.com) - was blocked in 2007 for a period of time?
- FaceTime - blocked ... unblocked ... blocked ... who knows?
- Flickr (www.flickr.com) - blocked since 2005, although many other image hosting websites are not blocked. Update 27 September 2010: Flikr available on both Du and Etisalat internet connections after the TRA said it could be unblocked, although Flicker Groups are still blocked (but that might change also).
- [Update 2019: available] www.gretnaweddings.com - company which arranges weddings in Gretna Green in UK (a place famous for quickie weddings in Scotland, just over the border from England). No obvious reason why it's blocked, other wedding arrangment company websites are available.
- [Not banned? At least not on du, Mar 2019] www.icfuae.org.uk - the "About Us" page says "The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) was launched on 17th April 2015 to support political activism and democratic reform in the UAE."
- www.localnewsuae.com - blocked in November 2010? Presumably because commentary or blog posts that went over the tolerance line of criticism of the UAE.
- www.mafiwasta.com - a website supporting improved working conditions better rights for labourers and workers in the UAE. Founded in 2005 or 2006 by some UAE oilfield employees. Blocking seems to be off and on, and like uaeprison.com, it's not clear what the point is of blocking it in the UAE when those who reside outside the UAE are not affected by the censorship. Also not clear why the website is banned, most information is sourced from (and attributed to) local UAE press and government sources, additional information from other authoritative sources which are not banned in the UAE. Perhaps some of the opinions or headlines were too controversial. Website went offline beginning of 2012, unblocked sometime after that but is just spam now for medical or financial products.
- Middlesex University (UK) - website blocked in the late 1990s due to the inclusion of the word "sex". No longer blocked, and there's even a Middlesex Dubai branch now.
- MySpace - blocked in 2006 for a period of time?
- Orkut - which frustrates members, but Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc are not blocked.
- www.paddleyourownkanoo.com - banned in Jan 2018 (accessible when we checked Mar 2019, on du connection). A PYOK blog post surmised that the ban was because they had recently posted a few articles about (allegedly deteriorating) working conditions at Emirates Airlines. Or perhaps the TRA has decided to ban websites with randomly generated hashtags in their URLs that mess up your bookmarks.
- www.pprune.org (Professional Pilots Rumour Network). Blocked or partly blocked in Aug 2018. Based on comments on pprune.org, seems to be inconsistent whether blocked on mobile or desktop, using Etisalat or Du network. Also inconsistent whether the "prohibited content" message is seen, or a more generic network error message. Speculation is that blocking of pprune.org was related to negative comments about working at Emirates Airlines, which seems odd since UAE residents usually have a good idea of what it's like to work at EK anyway, and overseas residents can still read pprune.org. The pprune.org administration announced in 2012 that discussion of Etihad Airways was banned so it seems unlikely the block is related to anything posted about EY. There was also a brief period of blockage in 2009 according to a pprune.org thread, or it was just a network problem for a few minutes.
- secretdubai.blogspot.com - everyone's favorite blog, either because they love it, or love to hate it. The blog was blocked, then unblocked after public protest, then blocked again a few years later. Which in the end is probably what the author wanted - her (apparently) blog posts became more and more vitriolic about Dubai to the extent that it sounded like a personal rant rather than an objective critique. The blog appears to have been abandoned in Aug 2010, apart from one last sputter in Apr 2014. Sometime before or after that it was unblocked again (du) (last checked Nov 2018).
- single-in-dubai.blogspot.com - way funnier, more entertaining, and more informative than Secret Dubai. All about the dating scene from the perspective of two clever and eloquent females. No pictures, and hard to figure out a reason why they might have been blocked. Perhaps one of the girls didn't put out on a date with someone with enough wasta to shut them down.
- Skype (www.skype.com) - the internet VOIP telephone service, ostensibly for reasons of security (it's dangerous for internet users) or whatever other excuse the TRA can come up with. Most residents believe it is blocked simply to protect the revenues for the telecom operators generated from international phone calls. Many have also discovered it's not so hard to use Skype if they really want to.
- Dec 2017 - Skype VoIP blocked again in the UAE. Website still available.
- [date?] Skype VoIP available in the UAE?
- Sometime in 2013 - Skype website and access was unblocked in the UAE, but voice calls remain blocked or illegal or poor quality.
- 20 April 2012 - media reports quoted Mohamed Al Ghanim, Director General of Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA), as saying "It is purely a licensing matter. I hope they come to TRA for licence," referring to Skype and/or other VOIP providers. The TRA website says "Currently only Licensees may provide VoIP Services in the UAE" and "The TRA does not block VoIP traffic or protocols. However, as per the VoIP Policy ver. 2.0, the Licensees have the right to block illegal VoIP traffic" (as of April 2012, Etisalat and Du are Licensees in the UAE).
- 18 October 2009 - Bloomberg reported that Mohamed al-Ghanim, Director General of the TRA, said "I'm in discussions with the mobile operators regarding the introduction of VoIP," and that the TRA would "upgrade our VoIP policy soon," referring to licensing issues as the reason for the ban on Skype and other VOIP providers.
- www.uaehewar.net - blocked in February 2010 according to the Human Rights Watch UAE report 2011. HRW said The popular website encouraged debate on topics ranging from freedom of expression to political rights.
- www.uaeprison.com - a website critical of the UAE prison system. The irony is that most residents in the UAE have a good idea of how unpleasant the jails are, and blocking the website won't alter that perception, but anyone outside the UAE is not affected by the internal block, and so they will still be able to read about UAE jails despite the block.
- www.uaeuniversitywatch.net - a rather ascerbic and infantile website with information about universities and colleges in the UAE, mostly focused on the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and UAE University, and mostly negative comments and articles, in particular naming names of senior personnel at those institutes and criticising them in a manner that comes across as sour grapes rather than being very objective. Block appears to have started in early 2012. But as is typical of critical websites being blocked in the UAE, most teachers and lecturers in the UAE are well aware of the criticisms so the block doesn't really affect them, and since the block doesn't work outside the UAE, new teachers and instructors will continue to be able to visit the website and wonder how much truth it contains if the UAE feels it is necessary to ban it.
- Whatsapp: voice and video calls are blocked, or poor quality if you do manage to get connected. No restrictions on text and image sending, unless in contravention of the general cyberlaws in the UAE affecting what you say online - there has been more than one case of someone being fined (AED20,000 or more), jailed, deported, or all three for making offensive comments in a Whatsapp chat or Facebook message.
- Wikipedia pages on: the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) (possibly because the page includes images of the Prophet), the Danish Cartoon Controversy, random pages related to sex (both as a biological function, and a human desire) and body parts.
- YouTube (www.youtube.com): Blocked from end of July 2006 until end of Sep 2006. An ITP report on 17 Aug 2006 (ref Windows ME, ITP, Arabian Business) quoted Saoud Al Shamsi, Acting Assistant GM of eCompany (Etisalat's internet division), as saying "The website was blocked by Etisalat on instructions from the authorities because of the presence of adult content on the website which is clearly against the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the UAE." Arabian Business/ITP reported on 01 Oct 2006 that the YT block had been lifted.
Avoiding internet censorship in the UAE
- Generally, websites and forums that provide information on how to get around blocked websites in the UAE end up being blocked. ... <suggestions removed> ... are blocked shortly after being publicised in the UAE. However, so far, Google, Yahoo, and Bing are still available. Also still available are EK and other flight booking websites (except for QR).
Other media censorship in the UAE
Censorship in the UAE is generally of subjects related to pornography, gambling, alcohol (or liquor), material which is offensive to Islam, material which is offensive to other religions, material which is critical of the UAE government and/or ruling families, and material which is critical of the UAE. The last item seems to cause the most difficulty for UAE based media publications, which generally err on the side of caution when it comes to criticism of the UAE. For example during the financial crisis and property crash in Dubai, it was much easier to obtain objective information from foreign published newspapers as it was difficult for UAE based media to write about those events without sounding negative.
- 26 Jun 2014 - a report from the US State Department Office of Inspection General (OIG) about the US consulate in Dubai and embassy in Abu Dhabi, contained the following observation about the Middle Eastern Broadcasting Network (MBN) office in Dubai:
- Operating in the UAE comes with restrictions that have caused difficulties for MBN on more than one occasion. After MBN-Dubai reported a local story that reflected negatively on the UAE, UAE Government officials withheld MBN’s shooting permit for a month and conducted a strict assessment of satellite dishes on the roof of the building where the production center is located. On another occasion, the UAE National Media Council summoned the embassy press officer in Abu Dhabi to complain that MBN had violated media rules because of a critical local report.
- OIG report available at http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/227278.pdf.
- Magazines, newspapers, advertising, etc published in the UAE with material related to alcohol use words like "hops", "grape beverages", "shorts", instead of "beer", "wine", "whisky", etc. An exception is airside at UAE airports where magazines published in the UAE contain advertisements for "whisky", "cognac", "rum", etc, or the duty free brochures list prices for whisky, beer, wine etc.
- Is Facebook banned in the UAE? No, although it was blocked in 2007 for a few weeks or months.
- Is Skype banned in the UAE? Yes for VOIP calls, no for website access or text based chat and file transfer.
- Is Twitter banned in the UAE? No, but there was a report in Aug 2011 that Twitter had been blocked by du for a few hours, by mistake.
- Is Whatsapp banned in the UAE? No, not for text chat, or sharing videos, images, or sound files. Yes for voice communication as in Whatsapp phonecalls. Sending voice messages works, although it's not clear if it is legal since it could be argued that it is "voice based communication".
- Is Wikipedia banned in the UAE? No, although some pages are blocked depending on content. The Hebrew Wikipedia is not blocked.
- Is Youtube banned in the UAE? No, but it was briefly from July 2006 until end of Sep 2006.
- [Check] Is VOIP banned in the UAE? No for TRA licensed VOIP services, yes for unlicensed VOIP. As of 2018, only Etisalat and du have VOIP applications licensed by the TRA in UAE?
- Is VPN banned in the UAE? Not exactly. The VPN protocol itself is not banned but using unlicensed VOIP is illegal, which is why many VPN websites are blocked. The use of VPN for legal content (in the UAE) is legal or illegal or a grey area depending on who you listen to.
Update needed on bans
- Discord, Facetime, Fortnite, IMO, Roblox, Pubg.
List of TRA website categories to be blocked in the UAE (as of April 2012)
- Internet Content that contradicts with the ethics and morals of the UAE including Nudity and Dating.
- Internet Content that contains material which expresses hate to religions.
- Internet Content that is not inline with UAE Laws.
- Internet Content that allow or assist users to access Blocked Content.
- Internet Content that directly or indirectly constitute a risk on UAE internet users such as Phishing websites, Hacking tools & Spywares.
- Internet Content that is relevant to gambling.
- Internet Content that provide information on purchasing, manufacturing, promoting and using illegal drugs.
Last update Monday 30-Sep-2019. Page development 3D 4L 5C.
- UAE print magazines - a list of what's available in Dubai and UAE.
- UAE newspapers - a list of (mostly printed) papers in the UAE.
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