A topic that often comes up when I’m discussing living in Dubai is Internet censorship. Friends and colleagues are always interested in the idea that the UAE government censors the web, restricting certain sites from public view. It is true to a certain extent that web service providers in Dubai do police their content and this can be one of those subjects that concerns potential ex-pats.
In this post I’ll look at using the Internet in Dubai more closely. If you’re heading there to work soon, you might also find it useful to read more about becoming an Expat in our free eBook The New Expat.
Before you imagine that the UAE restricts any derogatory news coverage, or suggestions of government wrong doing, you should know that the reality is very different. First of all, news sites are not restricted and this includes coverage that is critical of the UAE. Censorship is sometimes applied, but it tends to focus more on creative imagery accompanying coverage. For example, whilst Dubai’s debt problems were internationally broadcast and available to locals in 2009, a Sunday Times image of Sheikh Mohammed in a sea of debt was restricted.
When using the Internet in Dubai, ex-pats generally find that their access to world news is in no way tampered with, and that the UAE government encourages current affairs awareness.
Where restrictions are more evident is with pornographic sites. This is a definite advantage for many ex-pats with children when moving to Dubai. In this case the government acts in the same way as parental controls, and censors any images or sites with pornographic content. However, some people think the restriction is sometimes overplayed. For example, sites like men’s magazine site Maxim has been restricted in the past, while it’s available to buy in hardcopy in Dubai.
Sites that are perceived as offensive for religious reasons are also censored – as are gambling sites of any kind. This has raised a few eyebrows, since some of the larger hotel chains in Dubai have publicly invested in Las Vegas casinos, yet the details of these associations cannot be viewed within the UAE.
VOIP and using the Internet in Dubai
VOIP services such as Skype are restricted and this probably raises the most debate amongst ex-pats when it comes to using the Internet in Dubai. Although the rationale for the restriction is one of security, some suspect the real reason is to prevent a dip in profits amongst national telecoms businesses. Many locals will also tell you there are ways around using Skype, and some web cafes provide access, but technically it is not permitted to use the service in Dubai.
The other thing I should mention about using the Internet in Dubai is that you’ll almost always know when a site has been censored. In contrast to China for example, where certain searches return no data, in the UAE most sites that are restricted will come up clearly as government censored.
The truth is that whilst using the Internet in Dubai and censorship is a subject of keen debate amongst ex-pats, in reality the restrictions hardly impact on day-to-day living at all. For the most part, your average person wouldn’t want to access the sites that aren’t allowed, and censorship can even be an advantage if you have children using the net.
More on the move abroad
For more on making the move abroad, don’t forget to download our free eBook The New Expat which covers family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements, medical considerations and much more.