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The Work-Around for Saudi Arabia’s Tumblr Ban

John Bennet
Last Updated by John Bennet on June 20, 2022

Now entering its second decade as a hybrid social networking and microblogging site, Tumblr has a whopping 417.1 million users as of June 2018. While some of those users might be from Saudi Arabia, they aren’t able to view their own content in their home country unless they are employing a special workaround for the government’s intense Internet censorship.

This article will look at Tumblr’s short, meteoric rise, its brushes with controversy, Saudi Arabia’s Internet censorship policy, and the only proven way to get around it safely and securely.

A Brief History of Tumblr

Tumblr was created by American David Karp in 2007, giving users the opportunity to write and post short-form blogs and add multimedia in the forms of videos, images, etc. Within two weeks, there were 75,000 users, and in 2013, Tumblr was sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Both were then bought by Verizon in 2013. Tumblr has options for HTML editing, tags, and a dashboard featuring live feed that can be tied into the user’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

In 2015, an instant messenger feature was added as well. As of June 2018, the site receives about 29 million posts per day. Pornography grew fairly rampant on the site as it gained popularity, with TechCrunch reporting that more than 16% of Tumblr blogs were exclusively pornogrpahy in 2012. The site has struggled with controlling that sort of content as well as sites that promote suicide and self-harm.

A British teenager who maintained a self-harm blog was found to have killed herself after receiving an image from another user of a noose and the words “Here’s your new necklace, try it on.” Tumblr has pivoted to use public-service pages as search results for terms like “anxiety”, “depression,” and “suicide.” Despite these measures, Tumblr has been banned in countries including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

Saudi Arabia Internet Censorship

For more than a decade, Saudi Arabia has been home to some of the most intense Internet censorship in the world. The country has very strict moral codes of conduct centered on its religious beliefs, and violations of those laws can be punishable by both imprisonment and corporal punishment. This can include anyone possessing illegal content or programs used to view it or circumvent the censorship.

These laws were passed in 2007 and make Saudi Arabia one of the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to browsing the Internet. All international websites are directed through one huge DNS in Saudi Arabia which applies a content filter. Anything not passing the filter is instantly blocked before it can be accessed by anyone in the country.

The VPN Workaround

Since so many foreigners visit Saudi Arabia for work each year, the best way to avoid the country’s censorship on websites is to use a virtual private network (VPN). This will allow you to browse any Internet website you want without being blocked or condemned by the Saudi Arabian government.

The really important step to take, however, is that you need to purchase and download a VPN client before you enter Saudi Arabia. The same filter that limits so many websites also cracks down on VPN clients, which are viewed as circumvention tools by the law on censorship.

You must have the VPN client installed on your computer before you enter Saudi Arabia. Once you’ve done that, you can connect to a remote server outside the country to act as your intermediary to the Internet.

The VPN will encrypt the information you are seeking online and send it through a secure “tunnel” that is unreadable by your Saudi ISP or the government. The information is decrypted at the other end of the tunnel and decrypted there. The remote server then assigns your data flow a new IP address based on the country it’s located in and sends it onto the Internet.

When you begin downloading data from a website, the same thing happens in reverse, with the data encrypted at the remote server and send to you, where it is decrypted by the VPN client.

Fierce security is required to use a VPN in Saudi Arabia given the level of punishment involved for getting caught breaking the law.

1. NordVPN


NordVPN is usually regarded as the top VPN overall, with AES 25-bit encryptions, DOuble VPn tunneling, a no-logs policy, and more than 4,400 available servers.

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2. IPVanish


IPVanish is a strong VPN for this reason, as it has 256-bit AES encryption and a strict no-logs policy.

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3. SaferVPN


SaferVPN also focuses on security, with 760 servers in more than 35 countries along with a kill switch to lock down your connection if the VPN itself fails.

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John Bennet
John Bennet is an experienced data and communications engineer and cross-platform copy and content writer and editor with a keen interest in cybersecurity. He has been working with and researching, VPNs and other online privacy tools for many years.