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Blocking Wix in Lebanon : the knowns and the unknowns

Digital economy

Many Lebanese entrepreneurs were using the Israel-based platform Wix to design and host their websites. Lebanon’s decision last week to block the site has left many scrambling to find alternatives.

24/12/2018

Last week, a Lebanese court issued an order to block users in Lebanon from accessing the website hosting and design platform Wix. The tech company is headquartered in Tel Aviv and has offices in Brazil, the United States (US) and some European countries. The court based its decision on the ongoing state of war between Lebanon and its southern neighbor, Israel.

Ogero, one of Lebanon’s internet service providers, which also manages the country’s telecommunications network, began complying with the decision last Wednesday by barring access to Wix and all websites hosted through the platform.

Several sources who spoke to L’Orient-Le Jour (OLJ) said the decision was then gradually applied to all legal internet providers in the country. No one OLJ spoke to was able to clarify why the restriction was put in place last week despite it being common knowledge that Wix, which was founded in 2006 and is listed on the US NASDAQ stock exchange, is based in Israel.

A popular platform

The decision to block Wix, which advertises itself as an easy-to-use web design tool for novice programmers, was expected to upset many of its users in Lebanon. "I can no longer access my site or access my data from my residence in Lebanon, and internet users who live in the country cannot access it unless they bypass this block by using a virtual private network (VPN),” said Carlo Massoud, a designer who created his website using Wix, adding that the service was very popular because of its simplicity.

Another feature that draws people to Wix, according to techgeek365.com, which reported on Wednesday’s ban, is the ability to create applications that users can then market.

More than 9,000 sites were created on the platform last month compared to more than 3,000 that were deleted, according to the techgeek365.com article. But it is unclear how many Lebanese users have been affected by the ban. "There are a lot of small websites in Lebanon built on platforms that provide the same kind of interface, which makes it more difficult to estimate the number of companies affected by the blockage," remarks one of the affected companies.

Plan B

Some Lebanese users may be able to circumnavigate the ban on their websites by accessing them from abroad or using a VPN. But the sudden decision has left many in a difficult situation. "We are faced with a scenario similar to a business recovery scenario but the driving factor in this case is not a cyber-attack nor a destructive incident, but a governmental decision," said Hadi El-Khoury, a French-Lebanese expert on cybersecurity, referring to the procedures businesses put in place to restart their systems in case of accidents or emergencies.

The companies affected by the blockage should have had a fallback solution in place, according to El-Khoury, who added that there are numerous other companies providing the same services as Wix. However, he said, it’s less likely that small and medium sized enterprises or single person companies would taken this step. “The minimum requirement from [businesses] is to keep regular backup copies of all files that are linked to the site," El-Khoury said. "Those who did not think of this will unfortunately have start from scratch."

It will be more difficult, time-consuming and costly for e-commerce websites equipped with a payment interface to move to a new hosting platform, El-Khoury continued. For showcase websites, which simply display content posted by their owners, the process should be easier. “In the best case scenario, a showcase website can relaunch on the Internet within two weeks, for a cost almost only limited to the subscription claimed by the new hosting platform," El-Khoury said. For e-commerce websites, the process could take at least a month and cost a substantial amount of money.

Like many of the Wix users that OLJ spoke to, El-Khoury said that the court should have giving companies affected by the ban a period of time to move their websites to different service instead of abruptly putting it into place. "An advance notice of one month to six weeks could have allowed many people to take the necessary measures to avoid getting penalized," he concluded.


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