The emergence of Google

Updated 27 November 2012

The emergence of Google

Abdul Rahman Tarabzouni, the head of Emerging Arabia at Google, said Saudi Arabia has the highest number of YouTube views in the world.
Tarabzouni gave an exclusive interview to Arab News reporter Ibrahim Naffee and shared details on Saudi Arabia’s love of Google products, their plans to expand Arabic content online, Google’s position on freedom of expression and future endeavors to watch out for.

How do you evaluate the number of Saudis who use Internet and Google applications?
Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest Internet markets not only regionally but also globally. There are 190 million video views on YouTube in Saudi per day. That’s the highest number of YouTube views in the world per Internet user. The average user in Saudi watches three times as many videos a day compared to the average user in the US, and the Kingdom leads the region with the most playbacks per clip, followed by Egypt, Morocco and the UAE.
One of the big influences here is the growth of mobile phones. According to our Mobile Planet Study, smartphone penetration is at 60 percent in Saudi and 66 percent of users access the Internet every day on their smartphone. Most never leave home without their device.
The Kingdom also leads the region in the largest number of search queries, followed by Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and UAE. There has been notable growth on many fronts and we envision a lot more potential.

How do you evaluate Google projects in Saudi Arabia, in order to support investment in technology?
Google has been active in Saudi Arabia through outreach activities and local product launches. Local versions of products include YouTube, Google Maps, Map Maker, Driving Directions, Navigation Beta, Arabic Voice Search and Nexus 7. We have also launched the YouTube Partnership Program, which is designed to help content creators improve their skills, build their audiences and make revenue from their content.
In terms of community outreach, we have conducted in the past couple of years our developers event “g|Saudi Arabia” twice. The event aims to support, promote, and mentor technology innovation through the local developer community. We’ve also had 21 Saudi students from nine universities take part in the Google Student Ambassador Program.

You mentioned Road Traffic, can you tell us more about that?
We have pushed Road Traffic on Google Maps covering Jeddah. This means users in Jeddah are able to quickly determine the clearest route to their destination and reduce the amount of time spent in the car. In addition to being able to see current traffic conditions, estimated travel times are also available to ease anxiety and help you plan your trip accordingly.

What are your plans to support and enrich Arabic content on the web?
Google wants the web to be a better place and to help increase and improve the quality of content that is relevant to users in the MENA region. We are very active in making our own products available in Arabic and we’re doing a lot more.
Google this week announced a wider initiative to build a vibrant Arabic web and boost the amount of Arabic content online through “Arabic Web Days.” This one-month program includes initiatives by global and regional players in MENA to inspire users to create more Arabic content. The program theme is “It’s better in Arabic.” Increasing the Arabic content on the Internet is a great goal and we know we cannot do this on our own. That’s why we joined forces with Vinelab, Yamli, Wamda and Taghreedat in MENA to shape the Arabic Web Days program, which also includes Twitter, Wikipedia, TED, SoundCloud, YouTube, local powerhouse TwoFour 54 and Qatar Foundation’s Qatari Computing Research Institute (QCRI).

Do you think social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter threaten Google + in attracting more users?
Not at all, competition is a healthy thing and benefits the user, which is what we care about the most. But let me tell you more about how we see Google+. At its simplest, Google+ is Google, the new, improved Google. Google+ is our social spine, which offers our hundreds of millions of existing users a social upgrade across all our services, from Search and Gmail, to Maps, Chrome, Android, Ads and YouTube. From our launch of Google+ over a year ago, we have seen phenomenal growth. So far, 400 million users upgraded to Google+, 50 percent of which sign in daily.

How do you see the economic impact of the Internet in the region and especially in Saudi Arabia?
The Internet has created million of jobs around the world some of which are here in the Kingdom, but there is a lot more potential. Google believes there is a huge opportunity for every Saudi to start or transform their business on the web and reach rapid growth levels that were not possible in the past. There are many products and tools to support businesses such as AdWords, AdSense, Google+, and YouTube, which now offer content creators an opportunity to make revenue out of their content.

How does Google balance free speech and freedom of information with what is culturally acceptable in Saudi?
Google works every day to promote online free expression because it gives our users greater choice, power, and economic opportunity. We have a bias in favor of peoples right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. But we also recognize that freedom of expression can’t be, and should not be, without some limits.
For example, any of the content that goes up on YouTube must abide by our Community Guidelines. Users can flag content they feel is inappropriate. Once it is flagged, it is reviewed by our staff and removed from the system if it violates these guidelines. We also disable the accounts of repeat offenders. This practice is carried across other Google products such as Blogger and Google+. It’s also important to note Google abides by the laws of the countries it operates in.

Do you think campaigns that abuse religions are a threat to Google?
Users have the right to express themselves and share points of view. In fact services we offer like YouTube and Google+ help users express themselves and share different points of view. Google Search helps spread knowledge, enabling people to find out about almost anything by typing a few words into a computer.

What are the latest updates on YouTube in Saudi?
YouTube is much more than a video-sharing website and has become the go-to destination for premium content. Since we launched YouTube in Saudi, we have seen huge growth. Besides having the highest number of YouTube views in the world per Internet user, there was a huge increase in local content with uploads jumping 200 percent in 2011 alone. In line with that increase, we launched our YouTube Partner Program, which is designed to help content creators improve their skills, build their audiences and make revenue out of their content. That means any YouTube user in Saudi can be a partner regardless of their size. The steps are very easy and it all can all be done online.

What is YouTube’s strategy in Saudi and how are you helping content creators?
Our strategy aims to stimulate users to be more active and create and upload compelling content that represents their interests. There is a lot of talent here in Saudi and we want to help foster and grow and more premium content.
Our focus is on building the best and most coherent online platform for discovering, viewing and sharing videos. This means providing existing and potential partners with the resources and guidance they need to create better content and drive bigger audiences to their work. The user partnership program, monetization and advertising tools, are examples of how we are doing that.

What do you think of the rise in original Arabic shows and content on YouTube?
It pleases us to see how YouTube has become much more than a video-sharing website and has become the go-to destination for premium content. A lot of this content comes from the many young, talented Saudi YouTube stars. What’s also really exciting is seeing what TV and major broadcasters, including state TV, are doing online to give viewers a better experience. In Saudi for example, Google has a very strategic YouTube partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Information, which helps boost locally relevant content to a level matching the growing demand.
Content creators are emerging and using video as a key tool not just for entertainment, but also for news, information and for their businesses. We even see governments using YouTube as an engagement platform — this was evident in the Kingdom Dialogues, which is the country’s first citizen-driven online dialogue with decision makers using YouTube. This was launched in partnership with King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue.

What new products and services can we expect from Google in the future?
We think about our products in three categories and we invest in all of them. First, there is search and our ad business, the core driver of revenue for the company. Secondly, we have products that enjoy high consumer success — YouTube, Android and Chrome. We invest in these in order to optimize their long-term success. And then we have our new products: Google+, Commerce & Local that are reshaping the digital landscape. We are beginning to see progress and are investing in them to drive innovation and adoption. Our focus in the region is to continue to launch more local products such as YouTube, Maps, Map Maker, and Arabic Voice Search, to cater for the increasing user base in region.

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”