FaceTime has not been available in the United Arab Emirates since Apple launched the technology in 2010, but that policy may have eased it – at least for a while. The AP Reports FaceTime calls suddenly began operating in the UAE on October 10, allowing those with the app (not available on Apple equipment sold in the UAE) to make high-quality video and voice calls. This function worked when addressing people inside and outside the country.
It is not certain whether this is a permanent or intentional change. Dubai kicked off Expo 2020 on October 1 (yes, the city knows it’s 2021) and will continue to do so until the end of March 2022 – a gesture like this could encourage visitors who want to stay in touch and show what they’ve seen. The UAE’s telecommunications and digital government regulator has so far kept quiet about the apparent change, and restrictions appear to be largely intact for competing services like Skype and WhatsApp outside the fairgrounds.
Officials have never formally explained the ban. Some doubted it was a simple attempt to protect the profits of state telecommunications, especially in the early years when FaceTime would consume disproportionately high bandwidth. Others, meanwhile, suspected security concerns. The UAE is believed to have hacked a dissident’s iPhone to spy on their activities, and live video chats could make that surveillance more difficult.
We would not count on this delay to last long. However, if this represents a change of policy, it could be either an acknowledgment of a change of time or simply a matter of practical necessity. Video calls were often the only way to see friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the UAE ban did not help.
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