WhatsApp has apparently started offering free VoIP calls to UAE users as the button to the most eagerly awaited WhatsApp functionality has been flipped on for some in the country.
Those on Android platform and with the latest version of the app are now in line for the ‘contagious’ functionality – but you still have to be ‘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.
It should be noted that WhatsApp has still not made any official announcement or confirmation regarding the feature – here in the UAE or elsewhere.
Several blogs have listed the links to the latest version, including some spurious ones, that needs to be downloaded for the feature to be activated.
A user in Dubai who downloaded the app and received the invitation call from a family member in India claims her WhatsApp calling is now activated, and did call us up through the app as verification.
Some other users said they were facing issues even after downloading the latest WhatsApp version and receiving an ‘activation’ call. In the face of no official confirmation (or denial) from the company, it seems the app is in a testing phase and that the confusion could persist until it is made official.
Nevertheless, it seems only a matter of time before WhatsApp gets the technical side of things under control and begins the rollout in the right earnest. If, and when, that happens, it will pose a new challenge to not just other such VoIP services like Skype and Viber, but also to telecom network operators across the world.
Earlier this month, news of WhatsApp rolling out voice-calling in phases was also a seen by hackers as an opportunity to spread malware. In the UAE too, to cash in on the interest that this feature generated, a fake message was 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 clicked on the link, it redirected 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.
The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced specifically in 2013 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.”
Read: Free voice calls on WhatsApp: UAE impact?
While Skype’s text messaging is allowed in the country, its 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.