The latest political upheavals in certain countries of the MENA cannot separate from the recent developments and trends in social media usage across the region. In effect, whether it is those gigantic streets demonstrations of Algiers, Khartoum, and Cairo and more recently those in Bagdad, it is to be acknowledged that these have something to do with the ease and spread of information to and from any movement of their respective populations. Facebook, of course, with more than 150 million active monthly users would by any standard be first with online Egypt its biggest national market. Besides that, lots of Twitter users in MENA post original content and YouTube channels together with Facebook are turned to for first-hand news, debates and any other information on all those on-going and immediate situations. In response to all that, countries have quickly devised new social media and websites regulations with distinct objectives of monitoring.
The following article on the same social media as used in countries of the GCC is illustrative on the specifics of that sub-region of the MENA’s.
Social media has continuously evolved and adapted to how users use it by presenting new methods and platforms to take advantage of its service. Apart from personal use, social media is a boon for businesses seeking identification, recognition and a broader reach. The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) aims to enhance the social media experience through a variety of tools to target the right audience. In effect, AI is facilitating this journey for businesses by developing a better user experience on social media platforms.
Automation and chatbots
Businesses can no longer afford to overlook the added value and service that chatbots offer in regard to automated responses and replies as a form of a feedback mechanism. Customers today have a plethora of options when it comes to choosing a product or service, and the longer a business’s response time is, the less the chance of a conversion. Thanks to auto-responders, more deals are being closed and locked down without any human interaction than ever before, effectively selling your products or services while you are asleep.
VR and AR adoption
More than 50 per cent of investments in Silicon Valley are currently related to virtual reality (VR), which is a clear indication of its impact and importance, especially when considering its fast integration with social media as a means for further exploring the realm of communication. Alongside it is augmented reality, which has helped businesses offer a real-time view of their product, service or experience, with the sector poised for maximum benefits from AR and VR being leisure and entertainment.
It is all about engagement
According to a 2017 survey, Instagram was rated as the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing, with the platform contributing to higher levels of anxiety and depression. Experts say that public display of likes has some significant negative impacts. In response, Instagram will no longer publicly display the number of likes in an experiment that will alter how the platform is used, especially regarding influencers, whose main metric is the number of engagements. However, this will emphasise the importance of comments, elevating them as the primary source of a person’s or brand’s true influence.
There is a global standoff going on about who stores your data. At the close of June’s G20 summit in Japan, a number of developing countries refused to sign an international declaration on data flows – the so-called Osaka Track. Part of the reason why countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa boycotted the declaration was because they had no opportunity to put their own interests about data into the document.
‘Digital colonialism’: why some countries want to take control of their people’s data from Big Tech
With 50 other signatories, the declaration still stands as a statement of future intent to negotiate further, but the boycott represents an ongoing struggle by some countries to assert their claim over the data generated by their own citizens.
Back in the dark ages of 2016, data was touted as the new oil. Although the metaphor was quickly debunked it’s still a helpful way to understand the global digital economy. Now, as international negotiations over data flows intensify, the oil comparison helps explain the economics of what’s called “data localisation” – the bid to keep citizens’ data within their own country.
Just as oil-producing nations pushed for oil refineries to add value to crude oil, so governments today want the world’s Big Tech companies to build data centres on their own soil. The cloud that powers much of the world’s tech industry is grounded in vast data centres located mainly around northern Europe and the US coasts. Yet, at the same time, US Big Tech companies are increasingly turning to markets in the global south for expansion as enormous numbers of young tech savvy populations come online.
Accusations of ‘digital imperialism’
Take, for example, the case of Facebook. While India is the country with the biggest amount of Facebook users, when you look at the location of Facebook’s 15 data centres, ten are in North America, four in Europe and one in Asia – in Singapore.
The economic argument for countries in the global south to host more data centres is that it would boost digital industrialisation by creating competitive advantages for local cloud companies, and develop links to other parts of the local IT sector.
Many countries have flirted with regulations on what sort of data should be stored locally. Some cover only certain sectors such as health data in Australia. Others, such as South Korea, require the consent of the person associated with the data for it to be transmitted overseas. France continues to pursue its own data centre infrastructure, dubbed “le cloud souverain”, despite the closure of some of the businesses initially behind the idea. The most comprehensive laws are in China and Russia, which mandate localisation across multiple sectors for many kinds of personal data.
Countries such as India and Indonesia with their massive and growing online populations arguably have the most to gain economically from such regulations as they currently receive the least data infrastructure investment from the tech giants relative to the number of users.
The economics aren’t clear cut
Supporters of data localisation cite developing countries’ structural dependency on foreign-owned digital infrastructure and an unfair share of the industry’s economic benefits. They dream of using data localisation to force tech companies into becoming permanent entities on home soil to eventually increase the amount of taxes they can impose on them.
Detractors point to the high business costs of local servers, not just for the tech giants, but also for the very digital start ups that governments say they want to encourage. They say localisation regulations interfere with global innovation, are difficult to enforce, and ignore the technical requirements of data centres: proximity to the internet’s “backbone” of fibre optic cables, a stable supply of electricity, and low temperature air or water for cooling the giant servers.
Attempts to measure the economic impact of localisation are extremely partisan. The most cited study from 2014 uses an opaque methodology and was produced by the European Centre for International Political Economy, a free trade think-tank based in Brussels, some of whose funding comes from unknown multinational businesses. Not surprisingly, it finds gross losses for countries considering localisation. Yet, a 2018 study commissioned by Facebook found that its data centre spending in the US had created tens of thousands of jobs, supported renewable energy investments and contributed US$5.8 billion to US GDP in just six years.
Like the equivalent arguments for and against free trade, taking a dogmatic position for or against the issue masks other complexities on the ground. The economic costs and benefits depend on the type of data stored, whether it’s a duplicate or the only copy, the level of government support for wider infrastructure subsidies, to name just a few factors.
India has been the most vocal supporter for localisation, promoting its own regulation as “a template for the developing world”, but it’s in a strong position to do so given the country’s relatively advanced digital industrialisation and technical manpower. Other emerging economies with large online populations, such as Indonesia, have vacillated on their localisation regulations under pressure from the US government which has threatened to pull preferential trade terms for other goods and services if they went ahead with restrictive regulations.
What governments do with the data
While the international economics of personal data may follow some of the same general dynamics as oil production, data is fundamentally different from oil because it does a double duty – providing not just monetary value to businesses, but also surveillance opportunities for governments. Some civil society activists I’ve met as part of my research in India and Indonesia told me they were sceptical of their own governments’ narratives about data colonialism, worrying instead about the increased access to sensitive personal information that localisation gives to governments.
It’s not just large corporations and states that have roles to play in this bid for “data sovereignty”. Tech developers may yet find ways to support the rights of individuals to control their own personal data with platforms such as databox, which gives each of us something akin to our own personal servers. These technologies are still in development, but projects are springing up – mostly around Europe – that not only give people greater control over their personal data, but aim to produce social value rather than profit. Such experiments may yet find a place in the developing world alongside what states and large corporations are doing.
The Middle East and Africa is poised for major IP
traffic growth, according to Cisco.
Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast predicts 4.8 billion Internet users to
be connected globally by 2022 – out of which 549 million will be living in the
Middle East and Africa.
“Cisco Connect: Say Hello to the Future” event on March 12, held at the
Atlantis The Palm resort at the end of Dubai’s iconic Palm Jumeirah, Cisco
celebrated 30 years of the World Wide Web by sharing insights from the VNI
Forecast to predict trends and behaviours evolving in the digital landscape in
the region and globally.
VNI Forecast predicts four key drivers of IP traffic growth in the MEA region
1. A 9% increase in the number of Internet users
number of people using the Internet will grow from 23% of the region’s
population in 2017 to 32%.
features high on the national agendas of most of the region’s countries. Cisco
estimates that the MEA region will have approximately 549 million Internet users
and account for the highest growth rate in IP traffic worldwide, with a 41%
increase from 2017.
2. An increasing number of connections
predicts there will be approximately 2.5 billion devices connected to the
network, equating to 1.4 networked devices per capita in MEA.
devices will drive 91% of regional Internet traffic by 2022. With projected
average mobile network connection speeds to grow by as much as 28%, smartphones
in particular are expected to make up 79% of Internet traffic in MEA, with 1.2 trillion
connected smartphones by 2022. Cisco anticipates the enhanced connectivity to
create new possibilities for AI and machine learning across industries and in
3. Faster broadband speeds
broadband connection speed is a key enabler for IP traffic growth, Cisco
predicts the speeds will increase more than two-fold, from 2017 to 2022.
it is expected that broadband speeds in MEA will increase from 7.8Mbps in 2017
to 20.2Mbps by 2022 – enabling businesses and individuals to operate with
greater speed and efficiency. As this speed continues to increase, large
downloads will go from taking hours to a matter of minutes and eventually,
4. More media-rich content and applications
terms of rich media, data-heavy files and videos are anticipated to make up 81%
of the MEA region’s IP traffic by 2022, up from 65% in 2017.
predicted 16% increase in media-rich Internet traffic can be partially
attributed to the rapid growth of OOT film, television and music streaming
services in MEA. As online gaming also continues to grow in popularity, Cisco
predicts that the region will experience a five-fold increase in Internet
gaming traffic from 2017, making up 1 percent of total IP traffic in MEA by
Commenting on Cisco’s VNI Forecast and the changes predicted to affect MEA,
Cisco Middle East and Africa vice president David Meads said: “It is
undeniable that the Internet is growing at an exponential rate. As governments
continue to invest in infrastructure, a faster and stronger Internet opens the
doors to unprecedented opportunities for individuals and industry alike.”
more. “Digitisation is a critical force for economic growth, so businesses
must adopt a mindset that is proactive, rather than reactive. DDoS attacks can
represent up to 25% of a country’s total Internet traffic while they are
occurring. By implementing the appropriate cyberdefence mechanisms,
organizations can protect themselves throughout the full attack continuum –
before, during and after an attack.”
Meads also added: “With nations such as the
UAE championing innovation, the Internet has, and continues to change our lives
in an infinite number of ways. Recognising the changes that are affecting MEA,
government, policymakers and service providers must continue to unite in their
efforts to create an accessible Internet that is available to the masses,
underpinned by a secure framework to aid sustainable growth.”
March 12, 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the
“World Wide Web”, Tim Berners-Lee’s ground-breaking invention.
In just thirty years, this flagship
application of the Internet has forever changed our lives, our habits, our way
of thinking and seeing the world. Yet, this anniversary leaves a bittersweet
taste in our mouth: the initial decentralized and open version of the Web,
which was meant to allow users to connect with each other, has gradually
evolved to a very different version, centralized in the hands of giants who
capture our data and impose their standards.
We have poured our work, our hearts and a lot
of our lives out on the internet. For better or for worse. Beyond business uses
for Big Tech, our data has become an incredible resource for malicious actors,
who use this windfall to hack, steal and threaten. Citizens, small and large
companies, governments: online predators spare no one. This initial mine of
information and knowledge has provided fertile ground for dangerous abuse: hate
speech, cyber-bullying, manipulation of information or apology for terrorism –
all of them amplified, relayed and disseminated across borders.
control: between Scylla and Charybdis
Faced with these excesses, some countries
have decided to regain control over the Web and the Internet in general: by
filtering information and communications, controlling the flow of data, using
digital instruments for the sake of sovereignty and security. The outcome of
this approach is widespread censorship and surveillance. A major threat to our
values and our vision of society, this project of “cyber-sovereignty” is also
the antithesis of the initial purpose of the Web, which was built in a spirit
of openness and emancipation. Imposing cyber-borders and permanent supervision
would be fatal to the Web.
To avoid such an outcome, many democracies have
favored laissez-faire and minimal intervention, preserving the virtuous
circle of profit and innovation. Negative externalities remain, with
self-regulation as the only barrier. But laissez-faire is no longer the
best option to foster innovation: data is monopolized by giants that have
become systemic, users’ freedom of choice is limited by vertical integration
and lack of interoperability. Ineffective competition threatens our economies’
ability to innovate.
In addition, laissez-faire means being
vulnerable to those who have chosen a more interventionist or hostile stance.
This question is particularly acute today for infrastructures: should we
continue to remain agnostic, open and to choose a solution only based on its
economic competitiveness? Or should we affirm the need to preserve our
technological sovereignty and our security?
a third way
To avoid these pitfalls, France, Europe and
all democratic countries must take control of their digital future. This age of
digital maturity involves both smart digital regulation and enhanced
Holding large actors accountable is a
legitimate and necessary first step: “with great power comes great
Platforms that relay and amplify the audience
of dangerous content must assume a stronger role in information and prevention.
The same goes for e-commerce, when consumers’ health and safety is undermined
by dangerous or counterfeit products, made available to them with one click. We
should apply the same focus on systemic players in the field of competition:
vertical integration should not hinder users’ choice of goods, services or
But for our action to be effective and leave
room for innovation, we must design a “smart regulation”. Of course, our goal
is not to impose on all digital actors an indiscriminate and disproportionate
Rather, “smart regulation” relies on
transparency, auditability and accountability of the largest players, in the
framework of a close dialogue with public authorities. With this is mind,
France has launched a six-month experiment with Facebook on
the subject of hate content, the results of which will contribute to current
and upcoming legislative work on this topic.
In the meantime, in order to maintain our
influence and promote this vision, we will need to strengthen our technological
sovereignty. In Europe, this sovereignty is already undermined by the prevalence
of American and Asian actors. As our economies and societies become
increasingly connected, the question becomes more urgent.
Investments in the most strategic disruptive
technologies, construction of an innovative normative framework for the sharing
of data of general interest: we have leverage to encourage the emergence of
reliable and effective solutions. But we will not be able to avoid protective
measures when the security of our infrastructure is likely to be endangered.
To build this sustainable digital future
together, I invite my G7 counterparts to join me in Paris on May 16th.
On the agenda, three priorities: the fight against online hate, a human-centric
artificial intelligence, and ensuring trust in our digital economy, with the
specific topics of 5G and data sharing.
Our goal? To take responsibility. Gone are
the days when we could afford to wait and see.
Our leverage? If we join our wills and
forces, our values can prevail.
have the responsibility to design a World Wide Web of Trust. It is still within
our reach, but the time has come to act.
Audiovisual Heritage of the UN News came up with this call to action for all to try and ‘bring to life’ any audio-visual recordings of their life, be it private or public, all presumably for posterity’s sake.
Old, grainy film and video footage from years gone by, not only stirs powerful memories – it’s also a vital resource for future generations, the United Nations cultural agency has highlighted, urging everyone to safeguard audio-visual heritage and make archives more accessible.
These images and sounds recorded on film, video and audio tape, “feed into our collective memory and establish links between generations”, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in her message marking the official World Day for Audio-visual Heritage.
“[However,] this memory, which has remained alive and is essential to historians, scientists and ordinary citizens seeking knowledge of their past, is nonetheless fragile,” she added, noting the increasing neglect of archives which are made up of what is now obsolete analogue media, like LP records and quarter-inch audio tape.
Focusing this year on the theme, “Your Story is Moving,” UNESCO, in partnership with the Coordinating Council of Audio-visual Archives Associations (CCAAA), is calling on everyone to showcase personal and family archives.
“Bringing them out of lofts and cellars, sharing slices of life, moments captured on film or videotape, can bring alive, with emotion, an existence that has become a thing of the past,” continued Ms. Azoulay in her message.
“Heritage is not an inanimate object; it is full of meaning, significance and all the emotions that have accompanied the lives of past generations,” she added.
Alongside events globally to mark the World Day, UNESCO is also appealing on everyone to share their stories with the hashtag #AudioVisualheritage to bring their own “moving stories” to the world.
Preserving world history at the UN
In this special video, take a peek into the work of our expert UN archivists, as they protect tens of thousands of records documenting the history of diplomacy from the last century, preserving them for future generations.
Marked annually, on 27 October, the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage aims to raise awareness of the importance of audio-visual documents, redouble efforts to safeguard them and promote greater access to archives.
The World Day is a commemoration of the adoption, in 1980, of the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images by the 21st UNESCO General Conference.
In this episode of The Anthill podcast we talk to historians, future thinkers, designers and sci-fi watchers about our love of predicting what’s to come.
We talk to somebody who does it for a living, Anders Sandberg, research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, who explains how he got into future studies, and what it’s like predicting the future as a day job. Thankfully, not all doom and gloom.
Back in the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes predicted the future of work would leave us more time to sit back and relax. With robots taking on more and more menial tasks, he thought technology would reduce the working week to just 15 hours and the rest of our time would be devoted to leisure.
So why haven’t we got there yet? As we hear from Martin Parker, professor of organisation and culture at the University of Leicester, it will take more than just robots to make this happen; society will need to be entirely reorganised in the process. Meanwhile, Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire, identifies four areas where jobs will boom – in spite of all the robots.
We delve into the history of how our ancestors imagined the future too. Selena Daly, assistant professor in Italian Studies and an expert in the Italian futurists, tells us the story of the avant-garde art and cultural movement started by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti a few years before World War I. Both destructive and provocative in its vision, it’s a case study in how visions of the future can get wound up in politics.
Helping us to track other visions of futures past, Nick Dunn, professor of urban design at Lancaster University who runs its Imagination design research lab, reveals his favourite dystopian and utopian visions for what future cities could look like. And Amy Chambers, who researches science communication and screen studies at Newcastle University, explains how both utopias and dystopias in science fiction have been used to help imagine a better future. Today, she says, science fiction on the small screen is taking the idea of AI and running with it, creating a range of near futures that we can all be scared of.