Call it a nasty joke or cruel prank, but a hoax invite message is being sent to WhatsApp users in the UAE to activate free voice calling for them through the WhatsApp platform.
Indeed, rumours about WhatsApp offering free VoIP calls to hundreds of millions of its monthly active users came true when, in late January/early February, the button to the most eagerly awaited WhatsApp functionality was flipped on.
Those on Android platform and with the latest version of the app were in line for the ‘contagious’ functionality – you had to be simply ‘invited’ by a person with the functionality to get it, and the power to further pass it on to others on your contact list through a simple call.
However, that functionality was limited to a handful of users worldwide, in specific countries. In addition, the attribute allowing the spread of the functionality was withdrawn within a couple of weeks even as those with the activated voice calling feature could still enjoy it.
Perhaps to cash in on the interest that this feature generated in the UAE and across the world, a fake message is circulating among WhatsApp users, asking them to click on a link to ‘WhatsappCalling.com’ to try the free VoIP calling feature through the popular app.
Once users click on the link, it redirects them to a github.io page which asks them to forward the so-called invite – the same WhatsApp message they received – to 10 of their ‘active Whatsapp friends’ to activate the functionality.
Needless to add, none of the users who followed the steps gained the feature even as other users continue to forward the message in the hope of getting the functionality.
The ‘continue’ button that gets activated once a user has sent the 10 invites redirect them to a survey site which is most likely malicious since it forces users to download apps and software in order to proceed.
Experts maintain that the ads displayed on the survey portal in addition to the downloaded software are likely to be malware, containing viruses that may harm to your smartphone and leak your personal information to scamsters.
In any case, VoIP calling remains barred in the UAE for unlicensed players, including third-party app developers such as WhatsApp and Skype.
The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has on a number of occasions announced that the Telecommunications Law and the TRA’s VoIP regulatory policy “allows only the licensees (i.e. ‘etisalat’ and ‘du’) to provide telecommunications services in the UAE including VoIP services.”
In September last year, following rumours about the UAE unblocking of ‘Viber’, another VoIP-based app, the TRA said this in a statement: “We have recently seen local newspapers and social networks publishing news with regards to the “Viber” service being blocked in the UAE. We would like to clarify that the service was never licensed in the UAE. Moreover, the VoIP regulatory policy has only licensed “etisalat” and “du” (the licensees) to provide telecommunication services in the UAE, including VoIP services. This policy still exists and has not been amended.”
While Skype’s text-based messaging service has been now allowed in the UAE, the Microsoft-owned app’s VoIP calls remain encrypted and barred. The TRA added in its statement that “this policy has not been amended” as a clarification to rumours that Skype VoIP calls were being made legal.
“As to what the licensees have done in unblocking Skype’s website in the UAE, this action does not change the position of the TRA or amend the policy as this service is considered a Regulated Activity, therefore, it must be provided by a licensee.
“Should the service be provided through a partnership with a third party, both licensees must seek approval to provide such service after fulfilling the regulatory and technical requirements of the TRA, which has not happened in the case of Skype. VoIP services through Skype are still unauthorised,” TRA said.