One of the benefits of WhatsApp is that it offers all its functions for free and encrypted. Basically, you can make as many calls as you want and send as many messages as you need without going through the box (and until you run out of data, of course), but what if all users had to pay a certain amount per day in taxes every time What would you call on WhatsApp? Wouldn’t a good amount of money be generated? This is just what the Lebanese government proposes, and it is as curious as it is complicated to execute.
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Jamil Jarrah, Minister of Information of the Lebanese government, confirmed on Thursday that the government will begin charging a fee of 20 cents a day for making calls with VoIP services. The platforms included are WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and Facebook calls, and we should not confuse the call with 20 cents, but 20 cents for the first call, that is, six dollars a month if you make a minimum daily call. The problem? That it is difficult to implement, although not impossible.
Possible, but not so simple
There are two ways in which the Lebanese government could achieve its objective: to force operators to restrict VoIP service or create a state subscription to access VoIP calls. The first is feasible, because the two large operators in Lebanon, Alfa and Touch, son of state property, so the government will have a voice and vote to make decisions. That is viable, but it could be a lack of control in bureaucratic terms.
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The second option is to create a kind of state subscription, so that the government had “renting” the calls of WhatsApp, Skype, and so on. In the case of WhatsApp, this includes the terms and conditions of use, the rules that “you must not, directly or through automated means […] seller, resell, rent or charge for our services in an unauthorized manner”.
If all VoIP users pay six dollars a month, Lebanon would raise 252 million dollars a year.
In addition, for that service to work, WhatsApp might indicate to the government in some way that the user is making a call. It is viable if the user uses the operator’s DNS, but avoiding is as easy as using a VPN. What option is left then? Let the Lebanese government take out its own VoIP service. In the Lebanese media An-Nahar explains the following: “Let’s say that if WhatsApp calls end up costing six dollars per month, the government would launch a service that costs three or four dollars.”
The problem is that these services do not have to have WhatsApp guarantees such as end-to-end encryption, which creates doubts regarding privacy. Be that as it may, and although it is not known exactly how WhatsApp calls are taxed, this measure will take effect in January 2020 and will help the government increase revenue, something necessary considering that they have a 150% debt of GDP. If we start from the basis that Lebanon has six million inhabitants and that 3.5 million use VoIP services, we are talking about 252 million dollars annually in taxes on VoIP.