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Dubai’s online censorship poses a challenge for travelers

Dubai is very welcoming to tourists, but when it comes to using its internet, it is best to have a virtual private network or VPN.



There are a lot of reasons to go to Dubai. Despite being extremely hot and busy, Dubai has made itself incredibly attractive to tourists and people doing business. Its tax-free regulations make it a shopping haven. The buildings make it an architect’s dream. And its position in the Middle East makes it a perfect meeting place for partners from multinational corporations. It is a beautiful place and, although its policies towards people they perceive as different are archaic and violate human rights, Dubai is actually very welcoming to visitors.

However, when you are going to Dubai, you may not want to use the internet without a VPN. There are a number of reasons for this. If you live in Dubai or travel there, find the best VPN for the UAE before you go.

Unsure of what a VPN is? Here is a quick refresher.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) is software that routes your connection through an external server and encrypts your data. It makes the websites you visit think that you are connecting from somewhere else and renders them unable to see your data. In short, it protects you from identity theft and other threats by providing a layer of online cybersecurity. However, it also has a range of other benefits, especially when visiting Dubai.

These are the reasons you need a VPN when in Dubai.

Beat the censorship

Dubai, and the UAE in general, does not tolerate any content they consider to threaten the “identity, traditions, ethics, morals and culture” of the country. That provides a quite a wide permit to censor any content the government feels uncomfortable with. To begin with, images, videos, or articles containing or referring to something unpalatable to the government is blocked. This ranges from pornography, to LGBT websites, to content regarding some non-Muslim religions, to certain shows on Netflix and other services.

Of course, the censorship doesn’t end at supposedly obscene content. Anything that threatens the political powers in Dubai is blocked, and so it is more difficult to get accurate UAE news while actually in Dubai.

A VPN allows you to access all of this content for whatever purpose you need it, by routing you through a server in another country.

Maintain your privacy

While Dubai dedicates resources to blocking supposedly offensive websites, they don’t necessarily stop there. The government monitors the internet usage of the population, looking for any threatening activity. Now, governments around the world do this, and have complex algorithms to locate potential security threats based on online activity. However, what constitutes a “threat” to Dubai is a lot broader than what you may consider dangerous. Thus, someone who is managing to access pornographic or obscene content that was missed by censors may get in trouble.

As a foreigner, you’re unlikely to face that sort of trouble. However, it may well bother you that your privacy is up for grabs. It is difficult enough accepting that your own government may spy on you, let alone another, more oppressive government.

Get accurate information

Now, since you’re trying to explore Dubai, you probably want accurate information before you leave your hotel room. However, if content is being blocked, and you are wary of entering search terms that may seem to threaten Dubai’s “identity, traditions, ethics, morals and culture,” you might find it difficult to get the information you seek. Or, at least, you may find a watered down or alternative version.

This can be true if you’re trying to find out how safe it is to be seen in certain places as an LGBT couple, if you’re trying to find out where it is safe to go drinking, or even if you simply want information about local landmarks.

Put your VPN on and you won’t have to worry about government spying or missing out on information that may prove important to you.

A VPN will serve an important purpose even once you’ve left Dubai. (Source)

Prepare in advance

Dubai’s government is obviously aware of VPNs and works hard to prevent residents and visitors from downloading them. They block VPN providers’ websites. If you don’t prepare in advance, you won’t be able to download that VPN once there.

I recommend downloading a VPN on all your devices. The best VPNs come with applications for each device and allow you to install and use on multiple devices simultaneously.

A VPN will serve an important purpose even once you’ve left Dubai, so don’t be hesitant about the monthly subscription fees. Identity theft is a real problem these days, since we spend our whole lives on the internet. While we can’t change all our online habits, we can protect ourselves by using VPNs. Consider getting a year’s subscription. It will be cheaper and you’ll reap the benefits anyway.

Alternatively, sign up for a month and when you’re back from Dubai or any other country where online freedom is not guaranteed, you can end your subscription.

Olivia McCall is passionate about education, women and children’s rights, and the environment. A long-time investor, she covers news about the latest stocks (lately marijuana and tech), IPOs and indices, and is always on the lookout for socially responsible startups. She also writes about the food sector, and has a keen interest on cryptocurrencies.