Saudi 'Whatsapp rival' set for February launch

Saudi ‘WhatsApp rival’ set for launch amid privacy concerns
3 min read
18 January, 2021
'Pingme' claims to boast all the features of WhatsApp, describing itself as '100% Saudi'.
WhatsApp has faced increasing criticism in recent weeks [Getty]
A Saudi-developed instant messaging app aimed at rivalling controversy-mired WhatsApp is set to be launched over a year after an alternative developed in the UAE was kicked off Apple and Google's online marketplaces following a report which alleged it was a government spying tool.

Local developers will release "Pingme" - touted as the first Saudi instant messaging app – on Android and iOS on February 1, according to the app's website and Saudi media reports.

"Robust security...end-to-end encryption…complete privacy…100% Saudi app", reads an ad for the free-to-download service, which claims to boast all features available on WhatsApp, including Wi-Fi audio and video calling as well as video and picture messaging.

A press release for Pingme said the "agreement" to launch the app was based on "our duty and the principle of privacy protection when it comes to our beloved kingdom" and followed "the vision of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman".

The announcement of a Saudi WhatsApp rival comes as the hashtag #Saudis_leave_WhatsApp continues to trend among the kingdom's social media users, who are voicing concerns over the Facebook-owned app's new privacy policy.

Some have already flocked to Signal, according to Saudi news site Mz Mz.

They join large numbers of global users of WhatsApp, which on Friday postponed its data-sharing change in response to the backlash, seeking to clear up apparent misinformation and confusion.

The update concerns how merchants using WhatsApp to chat with customers can share data with Facebook, which could use the information for targeted ads, according to blog post by the messaging service.

Despite experts noting that the new requirement of users – an agreement to share data which includes phone numbers and IP addresses - simply makes legal a policy in place since 2019, Turkey's government have launched a probe into WhatsApp over privacy concerns.

Turkey’s BiP, a local alternative, grew increasingly popular last week, with at least one million users joining in just one day, according a statement by the company on Sunday.

Pigme's potential success may be stifled by the shadow of Totok, a popular Emirati-developed messaging app that was removed from both Apple and Google's online marketplaces in late 2019, following a report it was used for widespread government spying.

Read more: Google, Android pull popular Mideast app ToTok after report it was a UAE spying tool

The New York Times, whose charges where staunchly denied by the UAE government, reported that the app allowed Abu Dhabi's authorities to track the conversations, movements and other details of people who installed it on their phones.

Used by millions in the UAE and surrounding region, Totok had been designed to look like an easy and secure way to send messages and videos in countries where other services are banned, such as Skype and WhatsApp, according to The Times.

The report said US intelligence officials and a security researcher determined the app was being used by the UAE government for detailed surveillance.

Totok was later restored to the Google Play Store.

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