As an expat it can be surprising how much your internet freedom is limited once you begin residing in a new country. It’s easy to take the internet for granted in your home county and not properly research the restrictions placed in browsing in other parts of the world, though many countries block websites and exercise censorship.
UAE Internet Providers Etisalat & DU To understand the internet censorship situation in the UAE it’s important to understand the two — and only two — internet service providers: Etisalat & DU. Until 2006 Etisalat had a monopoly over the entire market, until DU was established to form an appropriately named duopoly. Unlike in other areas of the globe where competition is promoted, even if some companies do clearly have enormous advantages, The Telecom Regulatory Authority — which oversees all censorship in the UAE — simply writes the rules in favor of UAE telecommunications providers.
Cultural & Moral Reasons For Censorship Internet censorship in the UAE is based officially on cultural and moral preservation. The error pages which pop up in place of restricted content state that the website in question has been found to not align with what is best for the nation. While this reason sounds like it has good intentions behind it, the people and the visitors to the UAE largely believe the censorship is either too strict or completely unnecessary. To make matters worse, there is no clear set of guidelines which determine why a particularly website is blocked. For that reason any website can potentially be blocked. Below is a comprehensive list of types of website content The Telecom Regulatory Authority finds fit to block:
Information promoting illegal drugs
- Any content that helps users view blocked content
- Religious hatred
- Content contradicting UAE laws
- Nudity, dating and other content perceived as ethically and morally wrong
- Content which can harm users like spyware
Blockage of Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram and other VoIP
Skype and Wikipedia are perhaps most missed by internet users in the county. Dubai is a city which quickly ascended the world stage, built on the success of business in the region. But even as the city works to prove the region can compete with other areas of the globe, the ubiquitous application Skype is blocked. It’s difficult to cite moral or cultural reasons for the blockage of this app, which makes local economic incentives the clear motivation. Just as the internet service providers in the UAE have an unfair advantage by not dealing with any competition, local communications providers do not want to have their profits cut into by a free application. Particularly for expats and travelers used to performing most of their communication via Skype, this level of censorship is not only costly but incredibly inconvenient.
How VPNs and Other Solutions Provide Internet Freedom in the UAE
Expats are able to offer their favorite online content, and applications like Skype, due to solutions like virtual private networks and proxies. In fact, the blockage of websites in the UAE is built on a simplistic framework and outdated tools when it comes to both Etisalat and DU. Depending on how much you want to spend, you’ll essentially receive relative quality service. Paid VPN services work faster and provide more protection, while proxies usually aren’t fast enough for streaming and are less secure in general. Internet censorship is increasing every year in the UAE, leading to the increased need for solutions like virtual private networks.