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Facebook 'safe for now', says TRA

UAE fans of the social networking site can continue to use the website despite fears of an impending ban.

Fans of social networking phenomenon Facebook can continue to use the website in the UAE despite fears of an impending ban.

A spokesperson for the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) told Arabian Business that there are "no plans" to ban the second most visited website in the Emirates. "There have been no complaints made about Facebook and there are no plans to stop people using it as of now," he said.

The future of Facebook looked doubtful following last week's ban of Orkut.com after a number of complaints were made about sexually explicit material found on the site.

The Google-owned website, designed to reunite friends and keep users in touch with each other, has been banned once before. Mohammed Gheyath, director of Technical Affairs at the TRA said: "Orkut was initially blocked and unblocked before the TRA took over the responsibility of the internet content management.

"The recent blocking decision was based on public requests. The TRA examined the content and then decided to instruct the operators to block the website," he said.

Gheyath continued: "Websites that offend morals, ethics and values are the ones targeted. Social networking websites, not containing offending material, will not be the subject of any observation from the TRA."

Originally intended for American university students, Facebook was created in February 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zukerberg.

By the end of the month more than half of the undergraduate population at Harvard were registered on the service.

The site has since become a worldwide smash hit, with 30 million members and average daily hits upwards of 150,000. It is surpassed only by website MySpace.

The UAE has only recently dropped a ban on other sites including MySpace and the video sharing website, YouTube. Meanwhile Maktoob.com and faye3.com have recently teamed up to develop their own Arab social networking site to rival Facebook.

The two sites are working on a joint initiative aimed at providing a service that will allow Arab communities to link up online and share contacts.