Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Yahoo’s homepage was blocked in Saudi Arabia in the early hours of Wednesday morning, with no cited reasons. It has been confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat via a phone call to the Communications and Information Technology Commission [CITC] in Riyadh that it was added to the system’s list of blocked sites by accident, and it will be removed from the list by 1pm local time. The block was, in fact, lifted by the promised time, it has been confirmed.
Still, this left a big impact on many internet users, as the web-portal they relied heavily on for information on currency exchange rates, news, the weather, maps, restaurants, television shows, music, and their favorite search engine disappeared for a few hours. For those who did not save or know the address of the site’s mail service by heart, but who, instead, often relied on accessing it through the site’s homepage, this meant that they could not access their email inbox. Some Saudi companies, and other Arab companies with a Saudi demographic, who use the site to advertise products are now hesitant to do so, as they worry this could be permanent.
Rumors have made the rounds in quite a short time. Some believed this was just the beginning in an upcoming string of blocked search engines and web-portals in Saudi Arabia. They believed so because the content of the site did not violate any of Saudi Arabia’s internet laws, and yet it was still blocked. Others did not take the matter too seriously saying it was blocked because the sports page predicted the Japanese national team to win in the AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia versus Japan match, and that this upset officials so they blocked the site.
However to block a site as gigantic and significant as Yahoo on the basis of rumors and hearsay is entirely illogical and equally unprofessional, as the method of internet filtering should follow a fixed set of rules, and should not be done at random. Human error is inevitable however, and it was thankfully contained quickly this time. The CITC promise to take the measures required to make sure this does not happen again in the future, and it reassures anxious users that no site in Saudi Arabia will be blocked without a valid reason.