Apple and Microsoft in Talks with UAE to End Ban on FaceTime and Skype

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| News

Apple and Microsoft are both in talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to end a ban on FaceTime and Skype. Voice-over-IP (VOIP) services face are banned in the UAE to protect local telecom monopolies, but the government also tends towards authoritarianism and listens in on communications of its citizens and vast numbers of foreign guest workers.

Apple in the UAE

It’s that last bit that may be the biggest sticking point in negotiations. Apple uses end-to-end encryption that makes surveillance effectively impossible. Microsoft, too, recently added end-to-end encryption on Skype. For Apple, at least, there is no work around for that encryption, and it would be stunning if Apple allowed a version of FaceTime without it. As it is, the FaceTime app and capabilities aren’t included on iPhones sold in the UAE.

According to CNBC, iPhones purchases outside the UAE can use FaceTime inside the country, but with only mixed results. Skype was banned in more aggressively banned after it added end-to-end encryption earlier this year.

Business Matters

Which is wear business enters the picture. The UAE wants to develop stronger relations with tech giants, and it also wants to encourage more domestic investment. CNBC reported that Microsoft has been building data centers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Apple has been increasing its retail footprint in the country.

It’s with this complex backdrop that the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) entered into discussions with Apple and Microsoft, going so far as to confirm those talks with the press. Microsoft, too, confirmed the chats, while Apple has remained mum.

2 Comments Add a comment

  1. wab95

    Bryan:

    What does a self-respecting authoritarian have to do these days just to keep a watchful eye over his denizens, eh? I mean, one has to know if his people are getting any ideas that might lead them astray, like deciding to oust the ruler, right? Back in the day, things were simple. Can you imagine if FaceTime had been around during Stalin’s time? Cook would’ve been Siberian-Gulagged faster than he could say ‘end-to-end’ had he introduced that kind of subversion.

    In all seriousness, I have used both Skype and FaceTime in the UAE with no apparent hiccups, and yes, my iPhone was purchased outside of the UAE. That said, there was a time when countries looked to the West, notably the USA, for standards and how far they could be pushed before lines of propriety and international norms were crossed, particularly for sensitive issues like freedom of speech, particularly as it pertained to the press but also of ordinary citizens and any dissenting views they might express, freedom of assembly, and a dedication to truth and facts, as demonstrated by access to and distribution of information.

    All of these have now come under assault in that once vanguard of such freedoms, including that last item in which colleagues of mine who work in agencies dedicated to health and safety are now restricted as to what topics they can investigate and publish, and even what language they can use, like ‘science’ and ‘evidence-based’. And this is even without the widespread call throughout Europe, the UK, and the USA for backdoors into our encrypted communications.

    This secular drift in standards and norms is making harder for tech companies, like Apple and MS, to argue from any position of strength to preserve such antiquated notions of privacy and entitlement when, in their own parent countries, these are being eroded or disallowed.

    Despite the stentorian vocal support by too many of the world’s leaders for repealing these rights and access to information, I’m also confident that, given their pervasive distribution globally, and the many innovative ways that ordinary citizens are resisting these efforts, this unwholesome trend will be relatively short-lived.

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