Tag: saudi arabia

Bing angers Saudi Arabia with terrorist slur

Saudi_ArabiaMicrosoft’s translation function on Bing has angered a fair few Saudi Arabians by mistranslating the Arabic word Daesh into English as “Saudi Arabia”.

For those who came in late, Daesh is the name of the Arabic death cult also known as the Islamic State, which is better known for its head lopping antics and tendency to murder innocents in the name of their God.

The news spread on social media and a campaign was quickly organised in Saudi Arabia calling for a boycott of Microsoft products. Redmond fixed the issue and has formally apologised to Saudi officials for the blunder.

According to Dr Mamdouh Najjar, VP and national technology officer for Microsoft in Saudi Arabia, the error occurred because Bing Translator has a crowdsourcing function – if a large group of people suggest a translation, then it becomes listed as a possible answer.

There are enough people in the US who believe that Daesh has been funded by Saudi Arabia and who would think that it would be a laugh to change Bing’s meaning.  However, while there have been cases of Saudi Arabians supporting Daesh, Saudi Arabians fighting for Daesh and a common belief in Wahhabism which is an extreme flavour of Sunni, the Saudis are actually fighting Daesh.


Saudi Arabia mulls banning messenger apps

Saudi Arabia might pull the plug on a number of popular messenger applications such as Viber, Skype and WhatsApp. The trouble with instant messaging apps is that they can’t be censored and that’s not what the House of Saud likes to hear.

According to Saudi news site Sabq, the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission is working with application developers on the question. We are not entirely convinced that the Saudi request to open up the apps to censorship will go down well with developers, especially Viber, which was created by an American-Israeli entrepreneur.

The move is hardly surprising, as the Wahhabi kingdom already targeted BlackBerry a few years ago, when it was concerned its messaging service could be used by dissidents, or, God forbid, women talking about lace undergarments. In the meantime BlackBerry chose to shoot itself in the foot and die a slow death, but iOS and Android apps have taken its place.

When they banned BlackBerry messaging, the Saudis claimed they were concerned about the encrypted nature of communications, which hindered the country’s ability to fight terrorism and crime. Then again we are talking about a country that still sentences people to death for witchcraft. 

Saudi Arabia starts tracking women

Saudi Arabian men are starting to realise that their women might not like being treated like cattle and have brought in a mysterious monitoring system to stop them fleeing the country.

According to Raw Story, Saudi women’s “male guardians” or husbands as they are known elsewhere, began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women “under their custody” are leaving the country. Basically the electronic tagging programme turns the whole country into a big prison camp for women.

The move has not been advertised and the news is coming out after men started receiving text messages from the immigration authorities informing him that their wives were at the airport.

At the moment it is not clear what technology the authorities are using to monitor the women. People would have noticed if they had been required to wear a bracelet.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Oddly there is no law which specifically forbids women in Saudi Arabia from driving, but the interior minister formally banned them after 47 women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars in November 1990.

Until now there were signs that things were changing in Saudi Arabia. Women were given the vote recently and Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, who heads the religious police commission, banned members of the commission from harassing Saudi women over their behaviour and clothing. 

Interpol in hot water after Saudi-ordered journalist arrest

A journalist who created a storm in Saudi Arabia after a tweet about the Prophet Muhammad has created problems for Interpol.

Hamza Kashgari fled Saudi Arabia after people were furious because he tweeted that he was not a big fan of the Prophet Muhammad any more.

The posting, which was later deleted, read: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you … I will not pray for you.”

More than 13,000 people joined a Facebook page titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari”.

While “insulting the prophet” is not an international crime, Interpol jumped on Kashgari in Kuala Lumpur on behalf of the Saudi authorities.

It seems likely that he will go back to Saudi Arabia, where he is likely to be killed, so that he can explain to the Prophet why he does not like him any more.

While that is bad enough, Interpol has been accused of letting Saudi Arabia abuse its powers for using the organisation’s red notice system to get a journalist arrested for what, effectively, is a thought crime.

According to the Guardian, Interpol denied that its notice system had been involved in the arrest of Kashgari. A spokesperson said: “The assertion that Saudi Arabia used Interpol’s system in this case is wholly misleading and erroneous.”

However, human rights groups have questioned why the Malaysian authorities would want to arrest and return Kashgari to his native country without Interpol being involved.

Jago Russell, the chief executive of the British charity Fair Trials International called on Interpol to stand by its obligations to fundamental human rights and “to comply with its obligation not to play any part in this case, which is clearly of a religious nature”.

Last year, Fair Trials International said that Interpol was allowing its system to be abused for political purposes when a red notice was issued for the arrest of the Oxford-based leader of an Asian separatist movement, Benny Wenda.

Wenda had been granted asylum and has lived in the UK since 2003. 

Now, reports the BBC, it has been confirmed Kashgari has been deported to Saudi Arabia, where he faces execution.

Saudi Prince invests in 140 characters or less

Saudi News Corpinvestor billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has bought a $300 million stake in microblogging technology company Twitter.

Twitter is a mystery to some investors because, despite its impressive user-base, the commercial model still isn’t quite there. Regardless, the billionaire prince – himself worth approximately $19.6 billion – has plunged $300 million into the company.

Alwaleed made the investment through his Kingdom Holding Company, which is said to have been in long talks with Twitter. KHC has a seven percent share of News Corporation, the second-highest after Rupert Murdoch. 

KHC said in a statement that it had been talking to Twitter for months and  combing the books for due dilligence. It “reaffirms our ability in identifying suitable opportunities to invest in promising, high-growth businesses with a global impact,” Alwaleed said in a statement.

Although Twitter is still working on a way to truly monetise the influence it wields, KHC believes there is an opportunity there to leverage the nature of the media industry in general. 

Social media director at Essence, Hal Stokes, told TechEye that the move is an excellent pure business decision. “As the world progressively becomes tech driven, and media is progressively becoming social media, it’s simply a smart, progressive business move to diversify his investments,” Stokes said.

Stokes doesn’t believe that there will be any significant impact on Twitter’s day-to-day operations, because users will vote with their feet: “That’s the beauty of social media, users ultimately decide. If you offer a great service that suits their needs they’ll use you, stop doing that and they’ll move elsewhere. I can’t see that any significant impact will materialise.”

DST Global’s $400 million for a five percent stake of Twitter valued the company at roughly $8 billion in August this year. Looking at those figures, reports the FT, Alwaleed’s investment measures up to about 3.75 percent.

Alwaleed is the nephew of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia clamps down on bloggers, news sites, others

Saudi Arabia is beginning a major internet clamp-down, starting with blogs, forums, news sites, personal websites, electronic archives, chat rooms and online ads.

New regulations were approved by Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Mohee Al-Dien Khoga, the Minister of Culture and Information, which will require licences for the operation of an e-publishing site within the country when the laws come into effect in a month’s time,

Anyone who writes on a blog, online newspaper, or similar form of electronic publishing will be required to meet the following obligations: they must be a Saudi national, over 20, hold a high school or higher qualification, be of good conduct and behaviour, and hold an appropriate licence given by the Ministry.

Editors must also receive special approval by the Ministry in addition to obtaining a licence, while all licence holders must publicly display their licence information on their website. The licence will last for three years, by which time a renewal will need to be sought. Exceptions to these rules can be employed at the discretion of the Minister.

As part of the application process web users must supply information about their web hosting, data which will presumably be used to take non-complying sites offline.

Failure to comply with the new regulations can result in a number of penalties. The user will be ordered to “correct” the content of the website, or, in other words, remove the offending material. They will need to pay a fine, they may be required to pay compensation to an individual in addition to the fine. And finally their website may be partially or fully blocked, for either a period of time up to two months or indefinitely.

Saudi Arabia said that this does not constitute a breach of freedom of speech and said that it will act in a transparent manner in the conducting of the new laws, but the news is likely to upset a lot of bloggers and web users in the country.

Mongolia and Australia join rare earths race

Mongolia has emerged as a new contender in the race for world domination in rare earths.

Bloomberg Businessweek has reported that Japan plans to send a study group to Mongolia this month to look at rare-earth deposits with the Mongolian government. The two countries have also agreed to expedite talks for an Economic Partnership Agreement and to develop coal and uranium projects.

According to another report on The Japan Times, Japan has agreed to help Mongolia develop mines to exploit the valuable metals. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his visiting counterpart, Sukhbaatar Batbold, struck the deal on Saturday. 

Kan was reported as saying: “Mongolia has high potential in mineral material development and this will serve the two countries’ national interests.”

Batbold added that Mongolia would be able to produce value-added products by using advanced Japanese technology. 

Interestingly, Batbold was reported to actually be visiting Tokyo for another reason – to attend a retirement ceremony being held yesterday for his country’s sumo wrestler grand champion Asashoryu, a yokozuna *, who left the sport in February.

But regardless of sumo wrestler retirement parties, the two leaders met and the agreement was struck. And the timing couldn’t have been better as the announcement came one day after Japan revealed a whole raft of plans aimed at reducing its dependency on China for its valuable rare earths supply.

Rare earths are essential components for all kinds of technology, from iPods to computer memory, as well as other essential everyday items such as cars and wind turbines.

And Japan, along with many other countries, has been getting increasingly worried about China’s monopoly in this area – China controls more than 95 percent of the global supply of the minerals but has been tightening up its export quota.

Meanwhile, experts have forecast that Australia could benefit from this situation and go on to become one of the world’s leading producers of the vital minerals in a few years’ time.

According to AFP, industry sources and analysts said Australia has vast reserves of the obscure metals – maybe even up to 46 percent of the world’s rare earth deposits.

“By about 2014 we should be one of the dominant suppliers of rare earths to the world. And we will compete with China for that,” AFP said it was told by a long-term investor. “We’re a small country but we’re going to be the Saudi Arabia of rare earths.”

Meanwhile, Matthew James, vice president of corporate and business development at Australia’s Lynas Corporation, said people touched rare earths every day of their lives but they were not aware of the applications they were in.

He added: “They are underpinning societal trends which are not going to reverse. We have to become more energy efficient, we have to become better in managing our environmental footprint.

“People are not going to accept larger, clunkier devices, they want smaller, faster, lighter. These are trends which are driving growth in the rare earth market.”

Mr James told AFP he predicted an even bigger change may be on the cards – and that Lynas could be selling rare earths to China within a decade as the country’s supplies dwindled in the face of soaring consumer demand.

*EyeSee Yokozuna is the highest rank in sumo. The name literally means “horizontal rope”.

India takes aim at Skype, Google after RIM

A report said that following India’s threat to suspend Blackberry services by the 31st of August, the government’s next targets will be Skype and Google messaging services.

The Financial Times said it has seen the minutes of a meeting in mid July in which officials decided that after targeting Blackberry securely encrypted services, it will attempt to apply rules to instant messaging services offered by both Skype and Google. India is concerned that the secure encryption services incorporated in technology from RIM, from Skype and from Google may allow terrorists to plan and execute attacks free from government surveillance.

The Indian government, like the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, are concerned that RIM’s servers are located in countries like the UK and Canada and can’t be monitored by security authorities.  RIM is holding out against opening up access in the way the governments have required.

Indian security expert J Prasanna reported in mid 2008 that the Indian government was eager to monitor Blackberry traffic. He said then that Skype to Skype communications all traffic is encrypted on the fly, and RSA is used for key exchange while AES is used for bulk encryption. That, he said then, “makes it almost impossible to break into the communications”.

The motives of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and India for cracking down on the Blackberry are entirely different. The first two countries are terrified that citizens can communicate with each other without being monitored by the religious police. India has fears that outrages such as the 2008 Mumbai attacks will be repeated in the future.

Other countries, including Lebanon and Algeria also want access to Research in Motion codes.

* Update The Wall Street Journal said that RIM will provide a method that will allow the Indian government to monitor messaging and email on Blackberries. Not a good sign for Google and Skype, then.

Saudi Arabi backtracks on Blackberry ban

The Saudi telecommunications regulator has decided to allow Blackberry services to continue following “positive developments” with RIM over security concerns.

The pair have come to a compromise over the concerns, which for now puts a stop to the ban that the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission was threatening. This was going to go ahead last Friday but the Kingdom gave RIM a 48 hour extension to propose a fix, however, it is not yet clear whether a deal has been completely agreed.

The regulator added it was continuing to work with the country’s three mobile phone service providers and would “take the necessary steps” based on progress made.

RIM has faced the wrath of countries threatening to ban its Blackberry over the past few weeks -Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait all threatened to ban the device because RIM was not happy about sharing data with officials.

Last week Egypt also said it would look into a possible ban following fears of security. According to local Egyptian media, the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority said: “The producer received all necessary approvals to sell the phones in Egypt, but this will not prevent the devices from being banned should they indeed pose a security threat.”

The final decision on any ban will only made after further “investigation”, the reports said. As RIM seems to be bowing to the Kingdom for profit margins not morals there’s a chance it’ll strike deals to keep others sweet. 

Rim backtracks on security

The maker of the Blackberry, RIM has given up on marketing itself as the most secure company for businesses and has decided to hand over data to any oppressive regime that asks for it.


For years the Blackberry has provided businesses with encrypted goodness through a server that was based in Canada. This meant that not only were corporate secrets safe from rivals it meant that they could not be stolen by foreign governments.


All that is set to change thanks to a deal that has been done with the United Arab Emirates which will allow for all data to be stored locally where it can be searched by Arab governments.

Reuters quoted an analyst in the Middle East as saying that placing a RIM server in a country would be similar to handing that government a “master key” to the BlackBerry.


Similar deals are expected in other countries which have a big interest in getting their paws on foreign technology under the guise of “protecting the country from terrorism”.


It looked for a while that RIM was going stand up to such countries, but it looks like the outfit has decided that making money from them is the best way forward.


Saudi Arabia is reportedly Rim’s largest market in the Middle East, with about 700,000 BlackBerry users. It is also very interested in finding out what its subjects are doing.


Lebanon, Algeria, and India have pressured Rim as well and it is likely that they will get a server too.


However some analysts feel that Rim might have made a huge mistake in bowing down to governments in foreign parts.


Its biggest customers are in the US where its security was considered its selling point. While it is allowing spooks from any country that asks to sniff its data, corporates might as well be giving employees less secure iPhones or Android phones.