For many publishers in the Middle East region, Nabd – the largest personalized Arabic news aggregator – has become the number one source of referrals to their portals, exceeding Social Media networks, as a traffic source.
“In BBC Arabic, we consider our partnership with Nabd to be the most valuable and important of all our digital partnerships. This reflects the growing importance of news aggregators and the position of Nabd as a market leader. Our partnership with Nabd has enabled us to widen our reach and gain a new perspective of our audience needs”, says Mohamed Yehia, Head of daily output at BBC.
In its efforts to support its partners, the local, regional and international publishers, Nabd has launched a dedicated portal for publishers, enabling them to obtain and analyze detailed insights about their content, engagement, and users in Nabd.
“NABD is one of the top sources of traffic for RT Arabic. During the last 3 months NABD replaced Twitter as the second-best source of traffic from social media to the website”, says Maya Manna, Editor-in-Chief at RT Arabic.
Today, Nabd is considered by over 1,000 premium Arabic publishers, as a corner stone in their content distribution strategy, since it enables them to reach and tap into a massive audience, and continuously engage with them.
“We extremely value and enjoy our strategic partnerships with publisher partners. Such partnerships have empowered us to achieve our mission of supporting quality journalism in our region, and delivering relevant premium Arabic content for the Arabic audience globally”, says Mazen Singer, Chief Strategy Officer at Nabd.
Nabd is a Personalized Arabic Content Reader, enabling Arab users across the globe to stay up-to-date with their favorite topics on the go. Today, Nabd reaches over 20 million users, generating over 1.6 billion page views every quarter, making it the biggest Arabic app globally. It is currently available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
The UK Labour Party is promising to provide free broadband internet to every British household by 2030 if it wins the 2019 election. To do this, the party would nationalise the broadband infrastructure business of BT and tax internet giants like Google and Facebook. Whatever you think of this plan, it at least reflects that the internet has become not only an essential utility for conducting daily life, but also crucial for exercising our political rights.
In fact, I recently published research that shows why internet access should be considered a human right and a universal entitlement. And for that reason, it ought to be provided free to those who can’t afford it, not just in the UK, but around the world.
Internet access is today necessary for leading a minimally decent life, which doesn’t just mean survival but rather includes political rights that allow us to influence the rules that shape our lives and hold authorities accountable. That is why rights such as free speech, free association, and free information are among the central rights included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, crucially, everyone needs to have roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights.
Before the internet, most people in democracies had roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights. They could vote, write to newspapers or their political representative, attend public meetings and join organisations.
But when some people gained internet access, their opportunities to exercise political rights became much greater compared to those without the internet. They could publish their views online for potentially millions of people to see, join forces with other people without having to physically attend regular meetings, and obtain a wealth of previously inaccessible political information.
Today, a large proportion of our political debates take place online, so in some ways our political rights can only be exercised via the internet. This means internet access is required for people to have roughly equal opportunities to make use of their political freedoms, and why we should recognise internet access as a human right.
As a human right, internet access should be “free” in two ways. First, it should be unmonitored, uncensored, and uninterrupted – as the UN’s General Assembly has demanded in a non-binding resolution in 2016. Second, governments should guarantee a minimally decent infrastructure that is available to all citizens no matter how much money they have. This means funding for internet access should be part of minimum welfare benefits, provided without charge to those who can’t afford to pay for it, just like legal counsel. (This is already the case in Germany.)
A political goal
In developing countries, digital infrastructure reaching everyone might be too expensive to guarantee immediately. But with the required technology becoming cheaper (more people on the planet have access to a web-capable phone than have access to clean water and a toilet), universal access could first be guaranteed via free wifi in public places. Supply can start off in a basic way and grow over time.
Should everyone in Britain have free broadband in their homes? There are many good reasons to provide the best possible internet access to everyone, such as increasing economic productivity, sharing prosperity more evenly across the country, or promoting opportunities for social engagement and civic participation. And, as such, free broadband for all may be a worthy political goal.
But what is most important is ensuring that everyone has the kind of internet access required for roughly equal opportunities to use their political freedoms. Guaranteed internet access should be considered a human right in our virtual world, whoever ultimately pays the bills.
EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.
In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.
The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.
In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.
The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.
The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.
EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Mark Anthony Karam in an October 21, 2019, article that is a response to his “Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?” elaborates on possibilities of moving around obviously the plush urban centres of the GCC. But only during certain times of the year unless a personalised Air Conditioning apparatus is provided with the ‘cyacle’. The image above is credit to The National.ae .
With the rest of the world continues to see the micro-mobility sector enjoy growing success, could we see a similar success in the GCC?
Micro mobility was an ideal solution to the last-mile issue in countries like China or the US
The GCC might not be as ideal for a replicated success
There are several factors today that pose obstacles impeding its growth
Micro mobility, which involves light-weighted means of transportation like electric scooters and bikes for short trips, usually in urban areas, has continued to grow internationally. Countries like China, the United States and many EU nations are finding great success with this novel sector, which builds on many of the concepts of the sharing economy that innovators like Uber brought into the mainstream.
Lime and Bird, US rivals in the sector, reached unicorn status in a handful of years each since their founding. One of the reasons for their sudden success is that they solved the long-standing last-mile issue, capitalizing on a neglected market gap.
The GCC goes mobile Today in the GCC, some are attempting to solve this last-mile problem as well. Earlier this year, Careem announced that it had acquired Abu Dhabi bikeshare startup Cyacle, which would add a micro-mobility offering to their services. Launched in December 2014, Cyacle is a fully-automated docked bike-share service currently operating in Abu Dhabi. Stations run 24-hours a day via an app, a touch screen kiosk and docking system that releases bikes using a ride code or a member key.
At the time, Careem had also announced that it was partnering with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to install 350 bike docking stations across the Emirates, where citizens would have access to 3,500 bicycles to bike share.
Another firm, Dubai-based Arnab Mobility, is also providing a similar service.
“Global cities are currently trying to find solutions to the global warming problems mainly caused by fossil fuel vehicles,” Dr. Dheeraj Bhardwaj, Group CEO of Arnab Mobility, tells Gulf News. He ponders an age-old question: “Also, city inhabitants and visitors struggle with first/last mile transportation, congestion and expenses. How efficient is it for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person two to three miles? Conventional transportation systems are currently insufficient with people dealing daily with traffic, a lack of parking spaces, as well as long walks from bus stops and metro stations.”
Yet, while these solutions offer a service on par with international counterparts, it is important to remember the financial, cultural, and climate situation of the region.
Firstly, it is important to remember that the GCC region is known for its oil-derived wealth, with many nationals owning multiple vehicles and often employing personal drivers to help family members commute. Secondly, travel distances for major outings are already quite short.
“With urbanization on the rise, the majority of trips people take fall within the category of micro-mobility and thus are prime candidates for bike and scooter usage. In the US, for instance, roughly 60% of all trips are 5 miles or less,” CBinsights explains.
One of the reasons micro-mobility solutions are so attractive abroad is because of their perceived value for the service provided. Instead of paying a whopping fee for a taxi get you across 4 city blocks in New York, a US citizen would opt to rent a Lime scooter for a fraction of the cost. In the GCC, with its small-sized nations, large roads and affordable taxi services, this is not yet a problem. The countries in the region, save for Saudi Arabia, are sometimes comparable to entire Western cities in size. Bahrain, for example, has an area of 765.3 km², which is half the size of London (1,572 km²).
Therefore, from a financial and spatial perspective, micro-mobility services might struggle.
Then arises the issue of culture perceptions. While women have been driving for more than a year now in Saudi Arabia for example, breaking gender bias and perception is still an ongoing challenge. The country is certainly moving towards progress, but micro-mobility firms will have to consider this nonetheless. Also, consider that environmental awareness and consideration only just recently began to receive mass attention in the region in the past few years. Getting people to opt for bikes over a more convenient car ride will still prove a struggle.
Finally, and perhaps the most glaring of the issues plaguing micro-mobility companies in the region, is the climate and weather. The GCC is infamous for its scorching desert sun and sweltering heat. While public transportation like the Dubai metro or public buses offer some reprieve from the heat with their AC units, an e-scooter or bike doesn’t. When it’s 50 degrees Celsius outside and you need to just get home after a long day at work, a taxi or Uber, even for the higher fee, will prove the go-to choice. That remains the sector’s greatest obstacle. How it addresses it is still in question.
Mark Anthony Karam has 4 years of experience in the field of visual and written media, having earned his Masters degree from the UK. You can get in touch with him here: firstname.lastname@example.org
With regional governments now set to reduce oil dependency through policy and regulation change, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the phenomenon of the Internet of Things (IoT) is now rife among all sectors in the region, added the report from MEED, a leading business intelligence provider.
Organizations are on board to make structural changes through the usage of advanced and innovative technology. But while many of the innovations that promise to shape the region in the coming years are still new, and sometimes experimental, others are widely known, even if not yet in common use.
MEED looks at 10 technologies set to transform the Middle East over the next decade.
Grid-scale batteries to enable energy diversification
Global investment in high-capacity batteries is transforming the market for renewable energy. The large-scale adoption of alternative energy has long been hampered by the unreliable, inflexible nature of its major sources, the wind and sun. The problems caused by intermittent energy production can only be solved by developing effective storage solutions; batteries that can store energy at peak production times for later deployment.
A significant drop in the prices of lithium and vanadium – essential battery components – in addition to improvements in battery efficiency, are enabling large scale adoption of energy storage facilities.
Abu Dhabi’s recent launch of the region’s first Grid-Scale Battery Deployment and the world’s largest Virtual Battery Plant is indicative of the region’s commitment to diversifying its energy supply.
Digital payment – fintech
The initial caution of governments in GCC to digital payments and financial technology (fintech) is beginning to abate and the first online payments were made across the region in 2018, following a series successful trials of the technology that persuaded authorities to relax regulation. With limited access to banking facilities, an estimated 86 per cent of adults in the region (Reuters) do not have a bank account. This, coupled with an increase in the mobile phone capabilities makes the Mena market a real opportunity for fintech investment. Research company Mena Research Partners estimated the fintech market in the Mena region to be worth $2 billion in 2018 and it is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2022.
There is a growing realisation that complex systems such as oil fields, electricity grids, building sites and entire cities can be managed more effectively if siloed data can be combined on a single platform. New remote sensor technology can provide critical real-time data, allowing managers to make quick, informed decisions and increasingly intelligent software is being developed to automate complex processes. Internet of Things (IoT), which is a convergence of technologies such as remote sensors, machine learning and real-time analytics, is central to the development of these smart, digital ecosystems.
The GCC has been a global frontrunner in the uptake of autonomous driving, with UAE leading the way. The Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) launched the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy which aims to make 25 per cent of Dubai transportation autonomous by 2030, saving $6 billion annually. The RTA is currently conducting tests to decide the winners of the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport, which are focused on the provision of first/last Mile transportation.
5G supporting the new digital ecosystem
In May this year, Emirates Telecommunication Company, Etisalat, launched the region’s first 5G enabled smartphones. The new 5G networks transfer data 20 times faster than 4G, have a bigger capacity, are more reliable. This vital development is needed to support the emerging ecosystem of digital technologies including IoT, smart cities, cloud computing and autonomous vehicles. According to Globaldata, the number of mobile network subscriptions in the Mena region is expected to be 15.8 million by 2023.
Shift away from traditional fuel sources to free up crude oil for higher value products and export sees an increase in demand for alternative energy sources. One of the most promising alternative fuels is hydrogen, which can be produced using solar photovoltaic technology. This will be showcased at Expo 2020 by the use of fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen generated at a solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility at Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park.
Using AI to make the most of VR and AR
Initially gaining popularity through the gaming industry, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are increasingly being used for training, marketing and problem-solving. VR systems can have powerful applications when combined with artificial intelligence (AI). For example, it could be possible to develop a microscope that can highlight cancerous cells or the dashboard of a vehicle that can detect hazards and alert the driver using signals on the dashboard.
Electrification of transport
Electric Vehicles (EVs) potentially are among the most transformative of all emerging technologies, delivering a change as significant as the move from horse-drawn carts and internal combustion engines in the early 2oth century. While electric milk floats and golf buggies have been widely used since the middle of the 20th century, huge leaps forward in battery capacity and materials technology have brought EVs to the edge of becoming mainstream modes of transport.
Their benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions and energy conservation could be huge. Technical challenges ranging from development of electricity charging infrastructure through to battery capacity and safety capabilities remain to be overcome however before EVs they will become our primary mode of transport.
By 2025, the global 3D printing market is expected account for an annual spend of over $20bn.The Middle East is recognising the potential of additive manufacturing, with Dubai leading the trend with its3D printing strategy, announced in April 2016, which set the ambitious target of all constructing 25 per cent of new buildings using additive manufacturing. The sectors that could see the most benefit from the technology are healthcare – for joints, teeth, medical and training equipment, aerospace, consumer manufacturing and construction.
Food security – Vertical farming and hydroponics
Increasing population, extreme climate conditions and political and economic instability are putting food security in the Middle East high on the political agenda. With the region importing over 50 per cent of its food, governments are looking to boost local production using soil-free methods of farming that are 70 per cent more water efficient than traditional methods and use fewer chemicals. New, vertical farming techniques that require less space can be adopted in urban areas to bring production closer to the consumers.
With these new technological trends disrupting the market, Meed has introduced the third edition of the MEED awards, assessing companies on their initiatives in becoming more technologically advanced. Powered by Parsons (strategic construction partner) and Acwa Power (official power & water partner) the MEED awards is due to close its submission deadlines by the end of this week. – TradeArabia News Service
A new study shows 15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region; a big increase in Arabic language users. In fact, it was found that not only this platform does help socialise but does also contribute above all to informing on the goings-on in any particular country and/or intercountry affairs.
There are more subscribers to Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) than there are copies of newspapers circulated in the region, a new report has said.
The study by Spot On Public Relations said Facebook has more than 15 million users in the region, while the total regional Arabic, English and French newspaper circulation stands at just under 14 million copies.
“Facebook doesn’t write the news, but the new figures show that Facebook’s reach now rivals that of the news press,” said Carrington Malin, managing director of Spot On Public Relations.
“The growth in Arabic language users has been very strong indeed: some 3.5 million Arabic language users began using Facebook during the past year, since the introduction of Arabic support and we can expect millions more Arabic language users to join the platform,” he added.
Five country markets in MENA now account for some 70 percent of Facebook users – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the report added.
The study said only 37 percent of Facebook users in the Middle East are female compared with 56 percent in the US and 52 percent in the UK.
Egypt’s 3.5 million Facebook subscribers helped to make North Africa the largest Facebook community in MENA accounting for 7.7 million out of a total of 15 million MENA users.
It added that 33 percent of the UAE’s population uses Facebook and it also now stands as the country’s second most visited website after google.ae, according to websites ranked by Alexa.com.
Some 68 percent of Facebook users in the UAE are over 25 years old, flying in the face of perceptions that social media is a ‘generation Y’ phenomenon.
However, much of Facebook’s growth across the rest of the region has been driven by the under 25s, the report said.
Over 48 percent of Facebook subscribers in Saudi Arabia are under 25 years old, with an equal split between English and Arabic users.
However, about three times the number of Arabic users have joined Facebook in Saudi over the past year, compared with the number of English language users.For all the latest UAE news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
AMEInfo Staff members report business news and views from across the Middle East and North Africa region, and analyse global events impacting the region today.
Over 50% of the population are active internet users, a number that is expected to rapidly increase by the year 2030, as per Admitad’s 2nd annual industry report outlining e-commerce trends in Egypt.
Though only 15% of online users in Egypt shop online, the populous is becoming progressively approachable in online communications
The e-commerce market in the MENA Region is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022
“Despite the low rate of internet users currently, we are seeing an exponential growth in the e-commerce market in Egypt” – Artem Rudyuk, Head of Admitad MENA
Admitad MENA, a branch of the Global Affiliate Network Admitad, has released its second annual industry report that has comprehensively researched the increasing growth of e-commerce and online users across Egypt. Although the internet is only used by half the population of Egypt, it is still developing at an exponential rate. In fact, by the number of users alone, Egypt ranks first in the whole MENA region. By the year 2030, the growth of e-commerce in the country is expected to be remarkable – the road map includes improved Internet Networks (5G) and the opening of more than 4000 post offices for logistical convenience to aid this active development.
In a recent report by PHD Egypt, Nour Saleh evidently notes how the Egyptian government is getting involved at all levels to increase awareness of the vast opportunities that digitization can bring to the country overall. As Egypt ventures the translation of their public sector and economy towards a digital platform, the availability of data is voluminous. The country is making prominent efforts to simplify mundane tasks and provide a smooth pathway into a digital era, including encouraging businesses to equip this transformation.
An analysis by Bain & Company estimates that the e-commerce market in the MENA Region is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022. As this industry continues to rise, even the small pool of internet users in Egypt is impressively active. Today, a vast majority of Egyptian people rely on social media communities, Facebook being at the top to search for information on goods and where they can find the best deals. Though only 15% of online users in Egypt shop online, the populous is becoming progressively approachable in online communications and are therefore being profoundly influenced by recommendations. Through this conscious endeavour, Egypt is proving that today is the best time to be in the e-commerce market in the MENA Region and advertisers need to start getting ready for an era of digitization.
“Despite the low rate of internet users currently, we are seeing an exponential growth in the e-commerce market in Egypt. As governments get involved and aim to simplify these processes through the addition of updated logistics and easy bank processes, we are already seeing a rise in advertisers penetrating the Egyptian market and expect to see this continue. There is no doubt that more advertisers in Egypt will start to embrace digital transformation very soon and we are seeing many of them jump onto the bandwagon already!” – Artem Rudyuk, Head of Admitad MENA
The most recent manifestation of their widespread use could be assessed as resulting in amongst many things, the calm and easy dethroning of two of North Africa’s long-endured head of states. Their current and discrete assignments appear to be concerned with the complete disposal of the out-dated support systems. One thing is sure in that without these Social Media’s deep penetrations in the region, none of this youthful regeneration could be obtained or at least at such low price.
What is the most popular channel in Saudi Arabia and how many young people still use Facebook? Here are some key facts about one of the most youthful regions on the planet
This article is authored by Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers professor of journalism at the University of Oregon and Payton Bruni, a journalism student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, who is also minoring in Arabic Studies.
Since the Arab Spring, there has been increased interest in the role that media, and in particular social media, plays in the region. Our recent report, State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 explored this topic in depth. Here we outline the implications our research has for journalists.
News consumption for Arab youth is social media-led
“Like their peers in the West, young Arabs today are digital natives,” said Sunil John, founder and CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, which produces the annual Arab youth survey.
“Young Arabs are now getting their news first on social media, not television. This year, our survey reveals almost two thirds (63 per cent) of young Arabs say they look first to Facebook and Twitter for news. Three years ago, that was just a quarter.”
According to Arabian Business, content creators with more than 10,000 YouTube subscribers enjoy “free access to audio, visual and editing equipment, as well as training programmes, workshops and courses. Those with more than 1,000 subscribers will have access to workshops and events hosted at the space.”
In most countries, Facebook has yet to falter
The social network now has 164 million active monthly users in the Arab world. This is up from 56 million Facebook users just five years earlier.
Interestingly, in contrast to many other markets, 61 per cent of Arab youth say they use Facebook more frequently than a year ago, suggesting the network is still growing.
Egypt, the most populous nation in the region with a population of over 100 million, remains the biggest national market for Facebook in the region, with 24 million daily users and nearly 37 million monthly mobile users.
Saudi Arabia is a social media pioneer
“In 2018, YouTube upstaged long-time leader Facebook to become the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” reported Global Media Insight, a Dubai based digital interactive agency.
Data shared by the agency showed YouTube has 23.62 million active users, in the country, with Facebook coming in second with 21.95 million users.
Alongside this, although there are about 12 million daily users of Snapchat in the Gulf region (an area comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) a staggering 9 million of these are in Saudi Arabia (compared to 1 million in UAE).
A complicated relationship with platforms
Despite YouTube’s wide popularity in the MENA region, the company faced some pushback in the past year, after the network was accused of removing online evidence of Syrian chemical attacks.
Meanwhile, YouTube suspended accounts belonging to Syria’s public international news organisation (SANA,) the Ministry of Defence, and the Syrian Presidency “after a report claimed the channels were violating US sanctions and generating revenue from ads,” Al Jazeera reported.
More generally, social networks have a complicated relationship with the region, with service blocks, or the banning of certain features (such as video calling) being relatively common place, and both news organisations and individuals, can fall foul of greater levels of government oversight.
Derogatory posts have resulted in deportations of residents from UAE, while in 2018, the Egyptian government passed legislation categorising social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, thereby exposing them to monitoring by the authorities.
To find out more, download the full study State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 from the University of Oregon Scholars’ Bank, or view it online via Scribd, SlideShare, ResearchGate and Academia.Edu.
As foreseen by many, this article titled ‘Inside the dark web of the UAE’s surveillance state’ could only be an illustration of the UAE’s increasing involvement in regional tensions. This has as per the article been kicked off by the 2011 spring uprisings in the region but would signal the likelihood of a long period of severe frictions between the members of the GCC. In effect, the nationals as well as the foreign residents of this membership are closer to one another as flows after flows in all direction of social media commentaries could prove and ascertain their ethno-socio and business proximity. The UAE’s surveillance infrastructure by international cybersecurity “Dealers” could well have ignored that aspect of the populations.
This article is written by Joe Odell, press officer for the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE. It was published by the Middle East Eye and is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.
The above picture taken on January 11, 2018, shows the skyline of the Dubai Marina (AFP)
The nuts and bolts of the Emirati surveillance state moved into the spotlight on 1 February as the Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity company DarkMatter allegedly stepped “out of the shadows” to speak to the international media.
Its CEO and founder, Faisal al-Bannai, gave a rare interview to the Associated Press at the company’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi, in which he absolved his company of any direct responsibility for human rights violations in the UAE.
Established in the UAE in 2015, DarkMatter has always maintained itself to be a commercially driven company. Despite the Emirati government constituting 80 percent of DarkMatter’s customer base and the company previously describing itself as “a strategic partner of the UAE government”, its CEO was at pains to suggest that it was independent from the state.
According to its website, the company’s stated aim is to “protect governments and enterprises from the ever-evolving threat of cyber attack” by offering a range of non-offensive cybersecurity services.
Seeking skilled hackers
Though DarkMatter defines its activities as defensive, an Italian security expert, who attended an interview with the company in 2016, likened its operations to “big brother on steroids” and suggested it was deeply rooted within the Emirati intelligence system.
Simone Margaritelli, also a former hacker, alleged that during the interview he was informed of the UAE’s intention to develop a surveillance system that was “capable of intercepting, modifying, and diverting (as well as occasionally obscuring) traffic on IP, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks”.
Although he was offered a lucrative monthly tax-free salary of $15,000, he rejected the offer on ethical grounds.
Furthermore, in an investigation carried out by The Intercept in 2016, sources with inside knowledge of the company said that DarkMatter was “aggressively” seeking skilled hackers to carry out offensive surveillance operations. This included plans to exploit hardware probes already installed across major cities in order to track, locate and hack any person at any time in the UAE.
In many respects, the UAE’s surveillance infrastructure has been built by a network of international cybersecurity “dealers” who have willingly profited from supplying the Emirati regime with the tools needed for a modern-day surveillance state
As with other states, there is a need for cybersecurity in the UAE. As the threat of cyber attacks has increased worldwide, there have been numerous reports of attempted attacks from external actors on critical infrastructure in the country.
Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, however, internal “cyber-security governance”, which has been utilised to quell the harbingers of revolt and suppress dissident voices, has become increasingly important to the Emirati government and other regimes across the region.
In the UAE, as with other GCC states, this has found a legislative expression in the cybercrime law. Instituted in 2012, its vaguely worded provisions essentially provide a legal basis to detain anybody who criticises the regime online.
A network of Emirati government agencies and state-directed telecommunications industries have worked in loose coordination with international arms manufacturers and cybersecurity companies to transform communications technologies into central components of authoritarian control.
In 2016, an official from the Dubai police force announced that authorities were monitoring users across 42 social media platforms, while a spokesperson for the UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority similarly boasted that all social media profiles and internet sites were being tracked by the relevant agencies.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi meets with US President Donald Trump in Washington in May 2017 (AFP)
As a result, scores of people who have criticised the UAE government on social media have been arbitrarily detained, forcefully disappeared and, in many cases, tortured.
Last year, Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar and prominent Emirati academic Nasser bin Ghaith received sentences of three and 10 years respectively for comments made on social media. Similarly, award-winning human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been arbitrarily detained for nearly a year due to his online activities.
This has been a common theme across the region in the post-“Arab Spring” landscape. In line with this, a lucrative cybersecurity market opened up across the Middle East and North Africa, which, according to the US tech research firm Gartner, was valued at $1.3bn in 2016.
A modern-day surveillance state
In many respects, the UAE’s surveillance infrastructure has been built by a network of international cybersecurity “dealers” who have willingly profited from supplying the Emirati regime with the tools needed for a modern-day surveillance state.
Moreover, it has been reported that DarkMatter has been hiring a range of top talent from across the US national security and tech establishment, including from Google, Samsung and McAfee. Late last year, it was revealed that DarkMatter was managing an intelligence contract that had been recruiting former CIA agents and US government officials to train Emirati security officials in a bid to bolster the UAE’s intelligence body.
UK military companies also have a foothold in the Emirati surveillance state. Last year, it was revealed that BAE Systems had been using a Danish subsidiary, ETI Evident, to export surveillance technologies to the UAE government and other regimes across the region.
‘The million dollar dissident’
Although there are officially no diplomatic relations between the two countries, in 2016, Abu Dhabi launched Falcon Eye, an Israeli-installed civil surveillance system. This enables Emirati security officials to monitor every person “from the moment they leave their doorstep to the moment they return to it”, a source close to Falcon Eye told Middle East Eye in 2015.
The source added that the system allows work, social and behavioural patterns to be recorded, analysed and archived: “It sounds like sci-fi but it is happening in Abu Dhabi today.”
Moreover, in a story that made headlines in 2016, Ahmed Mansoor’s iPhone was hacked by the UAE government with software provided by the Israeli-based security company NSO Group. Emirati authorities reportedly paid $1m for the software, leading international media outlets to dub Mansoor “the million-dollar dissident.”
Mansoor’s case is illustrative of how Emirati authorities have conducted unethical practices in the past. In recent years, the UAE has bought tailored software products from international companies such as Hacking Team to engage in isolated, targeted attacks on human rights activists, such as Mansoor.
The operations of DarkMatter, as well as the installation of Falcon Eye, suggest, however, that rather than relying on individual products from abroad, Emirati authorities are now building a surveillance system of their own and bringing operations in-house by developing the infrastructure for a 21st-century police state.
We couldn’t find better read to start the New Year than with THE EDVOCATE’s article dated December 30, 2017on Digital literacy only through Digital citizenship. THE EDVOCATE is a website devoted to advocating for education equity, reform, and innovation.
The MENA countries’ education establishments could do well to meditate on what is put forward like some sort of a precept by Matthew Lynch, author of the article, i.e. “Embracing technology and digital literacy is a key factor to encourage learning from infancy through adulthood.”
With the increased importance of technology in society, digital literacy is gaining recognition as the most valuable tool for lifelong learning. What does this mean? Essentially, as citizens of a global society, the influence of social media, technology, and online resources is massive. For children, the access to a home computer with internet increases their likelihood of college attendance exponentially. For adults, the ever evolving tech world can either help them succeed or hold them back.
Society has changed over the last 15 years. It has become increasingly important to continue education after entering the workforce. The influence of technology on business is the main reason for this new mandate. In early learning through adulthood, digital literacy is showing the most promise for success. The edtech industry has long-focused on the value of digital competency for children. It’s time digital literacy was incorporated into adult education in the same way, but with a few adjustments.
The foundation of digital literacy has four factors. Technological skills and access, authorship rules, representation rules, and online social responsibility. For students and employees to interact responsibly in a digital society, it’s imperative to understand all four parts of the puzzle.
The core competencies of using computers, navigating the internet, and having access to broadband internet are essential to success. In today’s schools, students who utilize online research and display computer skills are more likely to graduate. Additionally, organizations like DigitalLiteracy.gov emphasize the importance of harnessing technology to find work and advance in your career.
Authorship understanding is becoming increasingly essential every day. Individuals can create and share content seamlessly in the digital age. This ability allows global citizens to interact and bond together for common goals. It also means that discerning authentic content is becoming harder to do. Those with good digital literacy skills will have the advantage of sharing ideas efficiently and knowledgeably filtering content.
Related to authorship is the issue of digital representation. Knowing how to decide what content is authentic and what isn’t is essential for every citizen. Understanding how to use resources like Politifact and Snopes will help individuals navigate representation issues more soundly.
To use technology and the internet in your life, it’s imperative to understand all the tenants of digital literacy. Lastly, and possibly most important, is digital ethics or online social responsibility. Digital ethics is the discernment of what is appropriate to say, do and share. It also includes observance of copyright laws and privacy.
To fully embrace digital literacy, individuals must also learn digital citizenship. The tenants of this idea are much more sophisticated than those of literacy. However, they guide behavior online, safety practices and research rules. Comprehension of the nine elements of digital citizenship will make technology safer and more helpful for children and adults, alike.
Understanding the Stats
In a 2013 report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office, the educational achievement of homes without broadband access was disproportionately poor. 42% of disconnected households attained less than high school graduation, and only 5% earned a Bachelor’s degree. Similar educational deficiencies were noted in a 2011 Microsoft infographic. The infographic suggested that 77% of jobs will require digital competency by 2020. Additionally, it recorded a 6% greater high school graduation rate for students with home access to technology.
Does the research suggest that mere access to internet and technology will improve educational and career performance? Not exactly. There are other important factors to success. Students need to be digitally literate which includes an understanding of digital citizenship rules.
The ability to use technology isn’t enough to advance individuals. Technology use comes with many possible hurdles which can present themselves to halt progress. Things like improper research practices can hurt student performance. Additionally, unsafe internet practices and inappropriate online activity can harm employees. To avoid these common missteps, people need proper education on digital citizenship and literacy.
From pre-k through adult life, technology is ingratiated in daily living. According to the International Guidelines on Information Literacy, technological education should start early. However, the report also states that teaching and improvement should continue throughout life to support personal and career growth. The European Commission Joint Research Center agrees. The commission suggests that digital literacy is essential to school success and later lifelong improvement.
Embracing technology and digital literacy is a key factor to encourage learning from infancy through adulthood. The impact of technology on learning has roots in the science of how we learn. As such, it has long been important to encourage academic advancement. However, the development of a global society has made involvement mandatory for successful individuals from all walks of life.
How does digital literacy inform your life? What continued learning tools have you embraced in your career? We want to hear your experiences.
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