Saudi Arabia's ban on internet calls has officially been lifted.
Earlier this month, the kingdom revealed that the ban would be lifted as part of its national reform plan. As of midnight Thursday, residents of Saudi Arabia could legally begin using internet calling services such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber.
But, such communications will be censored and monitored.
“Under no circumstances can the user use an application for video or voice calling without monitoring and censorship by the Communications and Information Technology Commission, whether the application is global or local,” Adel Abu Hameed, a spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), said, according to Reuters.
"In order to meet user needs: The Communications and Information Technology Commission announces it will be making call applications available online."
Hameed explained that new regulations are intended to protect the personal information of users and also ensure that content violating the kingdom's laws remains blocked.
"This decision comes in line with the recent trends in the ICT sector; the reliance on data revenues (Internet delivery) and added services is the global trend that operators in the Kingdom should take," the CITC said in an official statement, according to TechCrunch.
"[Hameed] added that the Authority is working with all stakeholders to provide all the telecom subscribers in the Kingdom [with] the finest services that meet their aspirations and satisfy their needs," the statement said.
How the kingdom plans to monitor and censor communications via the apps remains unclear. WhatsApp and similar services claim to use end-to-end encryption. This means that the app company is unable to read a user's messages even if authorities request to see them.
Numerous governments around the world – including Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey – have blocked such services for long and short periods of time, particularly during periods of heightened activism and unrest. Activists and terrorist groups have turned to such apps for communicating and organizing, leading governments to crack down on such calling and texting services.
At the same time, telecom companies have expressed concerns over lost revenues due to free calling and texting apps. With the lifting of the ban in Saudi Arabia, telecom companies are preparing to recoup such losses in other ways.
"The Saudi market has a strong appetite for faster data throughput and higher data use packages," Zain Saudi’s CEO, Peter Kaliaropoulos told Reuters.
"The opportunity to monetize the extra data usage will partially offset voice revenue losses," he said.