Stalking and Spamming in Lebanon’s Smartphone Age

You’re a driving on the highway calmly, focusing on the road and the barrage of cars trying to violate your vehicle’s space. You look around to the motorcycle trying to block you and you see a guy is driving. Coincidentally, you happen to be a girl. He looks at you intently. You cross eyes for a second and then look away.

You thought that was it.

The next day, your phone starts buzzing. You look down – an unknown number is calling. A slide to answer later and it’s a voice you definitely don’t recognize.
- Are you [insert name] and were you driving a [insert car color and brand] around [insert time] on the highway at [location]?
- Excuse me?
- I’m the guy who was driving the motorcycle next to you. Don’t you work at [insert job], your dad’s name is [insert name], are originally from [insert town]?
- What the hell?
- I’m a really nice guy who would like to keep talking to you. Do you mind?
- Of course I do!
- I am persistent…

You hang up. But it doesn’t stop there. Next thing you know, your phone is buzzing again. This time, it’s whatsapp. You open the app and immediately block the number. A few seconds later, the same number is calling you from viber. You end up deleting the app.

The above story is not fiction – it happened with a friend of mine recently. And she’s not a lone example.

Another friend of mine – who also happens to be a girl – had a similar scenario happen to her as well. She was lucky enough to have her father answer the call and gave the caller a piece of his mind.

I am certain those are not two standalone incidences. In the time and age of apps that allow strangers access to your private information with a few clicks, whose job is it to draw the limit?
The problem isn’t with apps such as Tru-caller and address book which outsource their data to their users who willingly share their entire address books with the companies. If you’re worried about your privacy because of such apps, simply don’t use them.

It’s about the other apps that require a source inside some governmental headquarters to fill them in with all the necessary information about license plates and user information.

Should we be also worried about out-of-nowhere stalkers now whenever we buy a new car?
“You get a free freak with each car purchase.” Perhaps ad companies should use that tagline as well?

Our spamming and stalking situation isn’t restricted to sexually-oppressed people. More often than not, I’m finding myself in whatsapp groups filled with numbers similar to mine whereby someone is advertising something. I exit the group, block the group creator and believe that’s the end of it.
But they keep coming back: be it those who text me to buy phone numbers that hold some resemblance to mine or the companies you don’t even know existed who text you about their new offers or even getting some notifications from certain banks you had never set foot in that a credit card was used on your account.

What account is it again that I have so much money in without knowing?

On top of it all, a lot of people I know – including yours truly – are receiving calls recently from either blocked numbers which could be Israelis (it happened before) or international numbers originating from Algeria, Mali or some other place in Africa and sometimes Europe we are more than positive we have no relation with.

I once answered one of those calls – static is all you hear before the call is dropped.

The truth is that the political debates surrounding your “private data” which are used quite often to rally the masses are becoming more and more meaningless since a lot of your data is not only available for security personnel to use but from random people on the street who can pull up your number and make your life a living hell if they want just by writing down your license plate number.
How are entities in Algeria getting our phone numbers and calling us often in the first place? And what is the governmental source of those apps that give strangers unlimited access to part of your information? And when will we have control over the spam text messages and calls we are getting in increasing numbers lately?

Perhaps in the time and age of smartphones and apps, some leeway regarding some aspect of your privacy is needed. But I’m certain the current situation in Lebanon is not acceptable.

Hold on, a +213 number is calling me.

Alternatives To The Viber Ban in Lebanon

In case you didn’t know, Alfa has blocked Viber on its 3G network and MTC will follow suit later on seeing as the demand to stop Viber came from the ministry of telecommunications.

I don’t want to go into speculation as to the reason of the ban and I have asked the minister on twitter about that but he didn’t reply. It seems this whole #ProtectPrivacy balderdash only works when it’s aimed at your political opponents. This is proof that what I said is true – the ministry doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your freedom except when it serves them politically.

Incidentally, Lebanese Twitter and Facebook users were not up in a fit about this as they were about #ProtectPrivacy thing. Guess it only works when they’re driven by some politician. It feels good to be right.

Anyway, seeing as Viber is not the only VoIP app available on Apple’s AppStore and Google Play – or whatever that store is called, I figured I’d make a list of other apps that you can use and which haven’t been blocked yet. The VPN fix requires you to pay for a subscription eventually. Hopefully by the time they block all other viber-like apps, some Lebanese would have seen through all the ministry’s bullshit and decided to call them up on it.

1 – SideCar (iOS/Android):

This is a whatsapp alternative that also allows you to call those that have activated it on their numbers. It’s also free.

2 – Vonage (iOS/Android):

This app allows you to call US and Canada numbers for free and most importantly, it lets you call other people who have Vonage.

3 – Tango (iOS/Android):

Has the same components as Viber and then some more such as video chats.

4 – Fring (iOS/Android):

Allows free calls, video calls and free group calls to those who have it activated on their number.