Spotlight on Augmented Reality in the Arab World

Following its release on July 6, Niantic’s new augmented-reality game Pokemon Go ignited debate about its implications for users’ privacy and personal information. The game’s launch also caused controversy in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the top clerical body renewed a 15-year-old edict that the Pokemon franchise is un-Islamic, while Kuwait’s interior ministry warned users about taking pictures at sensitive landmarks. In Egypt, there are calls to ban the game because it allegedly exposes the country’s vital security sites to the world, and authorities in UAE and Qatar urged users to be cautious while using the app. In a more welcoming reaction, Jordan’s tourism board is reaching out to the game’s makers to promote tourism in the country.  And in a subversive twist, some creative Syrians are using the game to highlight suffering.


Access & Interference

  • On 15 July, Iraqi authorities shut down internet access, except in the autonomous Kurdistan region, in response to anti-government protests.
  • Bahraini human rights group Bahrain Watch reports daily internet shutdowns between 7pm and 1am in the protest village of Diraz.
  • As of 27 July, VoIP calls were accessible over wifi in Morocco, local media is reporting. Moroccan authorities blocked VoIP calls earlier this years over fixed and mobile networks. TelQuel reports that this partial unblocking may not last, as the telecommunications industry regulator did not announce any change in its VoIP blocking policy.

Content Takedowns

  • UAE’s telecommunications watchdog asked Snapchat to remove contents that are against the UAE’s culture and traditions, and Snapchat agreed.

Privacy, Surveillance & Data Protection

  • Messaging app WhatsApp is accused of blocking encrypted calls to Saudi Arabia.
  • VPN users in UAE could be fined up to 2 million Dhirams under new law.

Cyberwar & State-Sponsored Attacks

  • The Islamic State group’s Twitter traffic has dropped 45 percent in the past two years.
  • A former LulzSec member: British spies used a URL shortener to honeypot Arab Spring dissidents.
  • A report published by Citizen Lab sees Iranian link in attempts to hack Syrian dissidents (full report).

Trials, Sentencing, and Judicial Harassment

  • Algerian blogger and journalist Mohamed Tamalt was sentenced to two years in jail over Facebook posts deemed insulting to the president.
  • Baharini women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer was sentenced to one year in jail for tweeting about corruption in a hospital.
  • An Indian expat worker in Qatar was fined 10,000 riyals for slandering his employer in a Facebook post.
  • Jailed US YouTuber seeks UAE pardon.

Extra-legal Intimidation and Violence

  • Jordanian Online LGBT magazine faces threats after publishing in Arabic for the first time.
  • Tunisian LGBT rights activist Ahmed Ben Amor, who has been subject to online abuse, attempts suicide twice in the span of eight days.

Advocacy, Policy & Law

  • Already licensed Bahraini newspapers will now require another government license to publish content online, under a new press regulations decree.

Tech Positive/Opportunities

  • The MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab is accepting applications for its “Innovate for Refugees” competition. Deadline September 1.
  • Syrian refugees design app for navigating German bureaucracy.

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Photo by kapa123, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0