Pakistan has blocked popular dating apps, including Tinder and Grindr, in a bid to prevent ‘immoral and indecent’ content.
The country’s lawmakers have even warned that YouTube could be next.
Pakistani authorities have already given short-form video app TikTok a final warning in July over explicit content. Moreover they blocked the streaming app Bigo Live for 10 days for the same reason.
Now the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) claims that the Tinder, Grindr, SayHi, Tagged and Skout dating apps failed to moderate content in line with Pakistan’s laws.
Pakistan is a Muslim majority nation where homosexuality remains illegal. However both gay dating app Grindr and Tinder – also popular with LGBT+ people – remain popular.
Data from analytics firm Sensor Tower shows Pakistani users have downloaded Tinder more than 440,000 times in the last 12 months alone.
Meanwhile Grindr has seen around 300,000 downloads in the same period. That’s the same figure as Tagged and SayHi with Skout achieving 100,000.
The PTA says it wants to block dating apps and make sure streaming content meets local laws.
Last week it called on YouTube to ‘immediately block vulgar, indecent, immoral, nude and hate speech content for viewing in Pakistan’.
However critics say critics say Pakistan has used recent digital legislation to limit free expression on the internet. Moreover they say it has tried to block any news which criticizes the government or military along with blocking ‘immoral’ material.
How VPNs avoid Pakistan’s morality police
Ray Walsh is a digital privacy expert at digital freedom company ProPrivacy. He said:
‘Pakistan’s decision to block Tinder, Grindr, and several other dating apps it claims are being used to disseminate immoral and indecent content comes as no surprise. The country is already known to engage in high levels of morality policing online.
‘Pakistani citizens will be used to oppressive levels of censorship to prevent citizens from accessing LGBTQ content, nudity, and anything else considered immoral.’
Meanwhile Walsh says the block on dating apps is an attempt to limit extramarital affairs. These are also against the law in Pakistan.
But he says there is a way around the censors – using VPNs.
These ‘virtual private networks’ route internet content through users chosen private server rather than a country’s internet service providers. This makes it harder to detect the source of internet traffic and bypasses national censorship.
Walsh added: ‘We would expect to see net-savvy Pakistanis who wish to escape the information bubble created by the PTA turn to technologies such as VPNs to bypass the censorship imposed by the state.
‘However, citizens living in totalitarian countries where bypassing blocks could endanger their lives must carefully consider which VPN they use. Many cheaper or free VPNs leak. That means they do not provide adequate levels of privacy and data security to keep users safe.’
Internet is a lifeline for LGBT+ Pakistan
Internet access is particularly important to LGBT+ people in Pakistan. It provides a lifeline in a country where meeting face-to-face can be dangerous.
In fact, Pakistan punishes gay sex with the death penalty. But while there are no records of executions, the law actually leads to widespread blackmail and police corruption, which is why in-person meetings can be so risky.
It also provides a place for the community to come together. For example, last month Pakistan hosted its second ever Trans Pride online.