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Friday, January 28, 2022

Qatar named top downloader of VPN as users attempt to bypass internet restrictions 


VPN came in handy for people in countries with restrictions on Internet usage. 

Qatar comes out on top for countries with the highest percentage of VPN application downloads for the first half of 2021, according to Atlas VPN.

A report on the VPN Adoption Index showed that Virtual Private Network (VPN) downloads have dramatically increased from 277 million to over 616 million during the past six months on a global level.

The study shows that the numbers have almost tripled since 2020. Proportionally, the use of the VPN application in Qatar is the highest, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

The top 10 list consist mostly of Arab countries, where governments tend to restrict internet usage and censor useful applications. 

On the other hand, only 4.19 percent of the population in European countries like France, ranked 57th, have downloaded the app. 

“In Qatar we never needed to use VPN until 2017 when the blockade happened,” said Rashid Al Kuwari, a Qatari cartoonist who has been vocal about restrictions on some apps.

Al-Kuwari said censorship on phone video calls in Qatar could be linked to the 2017 Gulf dispute and was imposed to enable the government to monitor anti-Qatar conversations. 

Read also: How Arab regimes used Israeli spyware to spy on activists, journalists

VPN allows users to bypass restrictions on VoIP services – short for Voice over Internet Protocol- available on WhatsApp, Skype and other apps.

“There was no announcement of the blocking on any telecommunication company or even the Ministry of Communications,” he added, however, “the funny part is that everyone is using VPN, so there’s no point of blocking these applications”.

Some social media applications like Facebook and WhatAapp use end-to-encryption to protect user privacy. This prevents governments and non-government organisations from spying on users’ conversations, messages or video calls. 

Almost one out of two residents in Qatar downloaded VPN during the first half of this year, according to the report.

“VPN adoption refers to the percentage of the country’s population that downloaded VPN applications throughout the specified period,” the report explained.

The top 10 countries with the most people that download the VPN are Qatar (44.4 percent), United Arab Emirates (39.9 percent), Singapore (29.5 percent), India (25.2 percent), Oman (24.7 percent), Saudi Arabia (23.1 percent), Kuwait (18.7 percent), Lebanon (17.6 percent), Pakistan (16.6 percent), and Algeria (16.1 percent). 

A reason for the high percentage of VPN usage and downloads in Qatar could be due to the significant number of expatriates in the country who have no choice but to turn on VPN to reach out to their families overseas. 

VPN allows users to exercise their rights to communicate with others online while hiding their IP address, which means protecting their identity and location and preventing a third party from tracking their online activity. 

“ISPs (internet service providers) in most Arab nations prohibit any information that violates Islam’s moral principles, with pornographic websites being the primary target. Furthermore, ISPs restrict politically sensitive topics, particularly those that criticise the government,” the report noted.

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