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Is the Internet Censored in Dubai?

Internet Censorship Dubai

Yes, the Internet is censored in Dubai but it is often applied only to sections of specific websites, apps and services. This article will give you an idea of the ways in which your online experience may be affected during your stay in Dubai.


As the dominant force in online video, and the 2nd most-visited website, YouTube has had a major impact on society and politics all over the world. At times, this has led it to be completely blocked in countries such as Thailand, Brazil, Iran, China, Morocco, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Libya, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Russia, Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

Other countries take a more fine-grained approach. Rather than block all 1.5 billion videos on YouTube, the clever government folks in Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is part) all censor individual videos. This gives them control over the ideas that their citizens are allowed to hear, while maintaining the illusion that they are free.

As of 2019, YouTube itself is applying stricter political censorship and other actions, such as demonetization, to discourage certain political ideas. So, eventually, governments may not have to apply any censorship to YouTube but, for now, you will find that certain videos available in other countries are not accessible in Dubai unless you use a VPN.


As with YouTube, the UAE blocks sections of Facebook but avoids blocking the entire site. It does the same for other social networks and forums. For instance, you will often find that Dubai-related sections of sites such as Reddit as not accessible from within Dubai.

Be aware that you can get in trouble for things you say on Facebook, especially if you are critical of Islam, the United Arab Emirates, or a citizen or business in that country. This is not theoretical: in 2015 an American citizen visiting the UAE was arrested and sentenced to five years for Facebook posts he made while in the USA.

Gambling Sites

Forget it.

Porn Sites

Not only are such sites blocked, but you will be jailed if you are caught looking at one.

Gay Porn Sites

Not only are such sites blocked, but you will be jailed if you are caught thinking about the last time you looked at one.

Getting Work Done

Now that you can no longer access porn, you might as well get some work done. Unlike China, Google Docs and other work-related services, such as Microsoft’s Offic365, are not blocked.

Dating Sites and Dating Apps

What better way to relax after a hard day of work than to go on a hot date with a pleasant companion. Unfortunately, in Dubai, you will have to forget about swiping right, you will have to find your date the old-fashioned way. For any Millenials who have never experienced this, it involves the use of social skills, charm, and confidence-destroying face-to-face rejection.

Worse, with all porn sites blocked, PornHub can no longer be your fallback plan.

Video Messaging

The video functionality of apps such as WhatApp, Facebook Messenger, Line and others is blocked in Dubai, because there is real danger that people could be using them to show their boobies.

Skype seems to be an unofficial exception, possibly because their owner, Microsoft, has good contacts with the UAE government and has persuaded them that it is an important tool. Of course, it is entirely possible to show your boobies on Skype too.

What is a VPN?

You have probably seen plenty of ads for crappy VPN services. A virtual private network allows your computer or phone to securely connect to an Internet gateway outside the country you are currently located in. This allows you to bypass the censorship that applies if you access the usual Internet gateway provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider, such as your broadband provider or mobile network).

The advantage of a VPN is that you get to bypass local censorship and, also, websites think you are in the country where your VPN gateway is located. For instance, using a gateway in the U.S.A. gives you access to content that is usually only available to visitors located in the U.S.A.

The disadvantage of a VPN is that they are almost always slower than using the Internet gateway provided by your Internet Service Provider. Also, the vast majority of commercial VPNs maximize their profits by cramming way too many users onto each server, resulting in very slow speeds at peak times.

There is also the slight complications that …

VPNs are ILLEGAL in Dubai!

In 2015, the Dubai Police declared the use of VPNs to be illegal, on the grounds that “tampering with the internet is a crime”. That confusing statement has set the tone, as it is not clear whether someone could be arrested simply for using a VPN – and many business people must use a VPN to access their company networks – or if it is simply illegal to use one while doing bad stuff such as hacking, or playing poker, or watching bukkake.

So, Is Online Censorship a Problem in Dubai?

You will probably not have any problems checking your email, getting work done or visiting regular websites while in Dubai, but never forget where you are.

Despite all the ultra-modern buildings, Dubai is still essentially a tribal and highly conservative society. It might look like the future, but the laws and the justice system have more in common with the Middle Ages.

Use a VPN if you need to but be doubly careful that you do not get overseen visiting anything that is illegal in Dubai. Be aware of the need not to leave any traces in your browser history or on your keyboard.

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