Saudi Arabia allegedly recruited Twitter employees to spy on users. That's just one of many ways Saudi agents use tech tools to spy on critics.
- The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reportedly uses hacks, social media surveillance, and spies to keep tabs on dissidents, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
- An alleged instance of this global spying operation surfaced earlier this week, when federal prosecutors charged two former Twitter employees with snooping on users on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
- The Kingdom reportedly used surveillance tech to hack online accounts of dissidents, installed spyware on critics' phones, and steered online harassment campaigns against its adversaries.
- The report of Saudi Arabia's alleged online spying and harassment comes at a time when the Kingdom is becoming a heavy-hitter in tech funding, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into Silicon Valley startups.
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Saudi Arabia is reportedly weaponizing big tech to carry out surveillance and smear campaigns against dissidents and critics.
New reports this week shed light on Saudi Arabia's alleged efforts to quash dissent using big tech. On Wednesday, Federal prosecutors charged two former Twitter employees with spying on users on behalf of the Saudi government. And earlier this week, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the broader methods Saudi Arabia uses for surveillance and harassment online.The reports build on previous allegations that Saudi Arabia has tracked down its critics online at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A 2018 report by Citizen Lab found that a Saudi activist's phone was targeted with spyware, and other activists have come forward to report similar hacking.
Prince Mohammed's alleged vindictiveness towards critics has at times led to violence - the CIA determined that he likely ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
But publicly, Saudi Arabia is a rising power-player in Silicon Valley, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into startups and venture capital funds like Softbank's Vision Fund, which funded WeWork, Slack, Wag, and Doordash. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that a Saudi-backed fund pumped $400 million into CloudKitchens, the new startup from Uber founder Travis Kalanick.
Here's a rundown of the ways Saudi Arabia is allegedly using big tech to surveil and retaliate against critics.