The emergence of Google

Updated 27 November 2012
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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.


Saudi Arabia ‘will remain strongest ally of the US in Middle East’

Updated 13 December 2018
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Saudi Arabia ‘will remain strongest ally of the US in Middle East’

  • Kingdom lies at the core of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, political and economic leaders told

Saudi Arabia will remain the strongest ally of the US in the Middle East and lies at the “heart and core” of President Trump’s foreign policy, some of the world’s leading politicians, economists and strategic analysts heard as they gathered to forecast the geopolitical state of the world in 2019.

At the 11th Arab Strategy Forum, an annual gathering to discuss worldwide political, economic, security and social scenarios and plan ways to help the region prepare for future challenges, speakers talked about a steadfast bond between the US and Saudi over the next 12 months. They said that Trump views the Kingdom as an unshakable ally with common regional interests including America’s fight against Iran, the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a turbulent and fluctuating oil market.

“The Trump administration has been fighting very hard to move beyond Jamal Khashoggi,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, who joined Ambassador Dennis Ross, former assistant to President Obama and National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and Bernardino Leon, director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, in a panel discussion titled the “State of the World Politics in 2019.” 

“They have made it very clear that they want to focus on other interests; the Israel-Palestine peace process, the question of Iran, the oil market … President Trump has made it very clear that Saudi Arabia really lies at the heart and the core of his foreign policy.”

He said that despite “tremendous pressures to take further steps” against the Kingdom, “the reality so far seems to be that the president will not listen to the critics.”

Dr. Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia. 

He said that although the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia has come under strain, “as long as Donald Trump remains in power the relationships will continue to stay.”

In the panel discussion, moderated by CNN’s Becky Anderson, Leon also addressed Saudi and US relations.

“There are two dimensions; one is internal US politics, the other is in terms of foreign policy. Foreign policy has to be determined by the government and will continue to be determined by the government — this is the rule. So if you see these relations, in historical terms Saudi Arabia has always been the main ally in the region for the United States. 

“This is a region where another traditional very strong ally, Turkey, is now in a different position and even though we are at a time where this region is probably experiencing more difficulties than ever before, the United States will continue to act on that basis. I do not expect big changes. I am sure we there will be waves and I am sure the US Congress will call for more transparency and more information after what happened after Khashoggi, probably this is going to happen. But there will be no structural changes.”

Ross said that US policy — which states that if the president vetoes a decision, Congress may override the veto by a two-thirds supermajority of both houses — means it would be “very difficult” for Congress to overturn any decision on sanctions against the Kingdom that Trump, who has been vocal in his continuing support and relations with Saudi Arabia. He added that “most of the pressure” from federal government would be more likely to be dominated by the ongoing Trump-Russia investigations.

Faisal Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, left, in conversation with Dr. Ian Bremmer. 

After being addressed by Faisal Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, who posed a question about US-Middle East relations and asked if the US would distance itself from the Arab world, Ross said that the US would continue to have a vested interest in Middle Eastern activities.

“Las Vegas rules do not apply to the Middle East, what takes place in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. That is ultimately why we have to stay involved in it.” 

Abbas began the first panel discussion of the day, “Discussing Megatrends in 2019,” by questioning speaker Dr. Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia, about oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s international and regional relations and his predictions for the year ahead. 

Bremmer addressed the recent announcement by Qatar that it was withdrawing from the oil exporters’ group OPEC, saying the move would have little impact or fallout.

“Qatar in OPEC is a marginal player so I do not think their leaving is significant.”

Bremmer said that Qatar attended the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) annual summit in Riyadh this week and that Qataris and Saudis “directly engaged” was a move to be looked at in a “positive” way.

At the forum, attended by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Bremmer began his address by saying that 2019 should not see any real turbulent crisis, and highlighted the “good news” of “robust” predictions laid out by the International Monetary Fund that state the global economy will grow 3.7 percent this year. 

However, he said that 2020 is likely to witness another recession and warned — unlike the shows of unity after the 2008/09 financial crisis — of a fractious and “dysfunctional” geopolitical landscape that will mean the world will be unlikely to be able to bounce back easily.

“The good news is the 2019 economy will not be horrible. The bad news; the next economic downturn will be much worse. My worry is that whenever the next downturn comes we have a problem. The thing about the last major recession … which was a big one, is the response from all the world’s major economies. They all worked together in saying we have a problem, we need to get out of this together.

“Whenever the next downturn happens — which economists say is 2020 — when it comes the political reaction it is not going to be like 2008/9.”

Instead, the world is likely to witness a “blame-game” with countries pointing the finger at one another. Bremmer warned: “This is the most fraught geopolitical period in my lifetime … and the dysfunction is only going to grow.”

The geopolitical landscape has been heightened by a series of world events, including the “disastrous”  negations over Brexit, France’s “yellow vest” protests, the looming end to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reign,  the state of US-China relations and the recent US sanctions on Iran.

Bremmer also raised concern over cybercrime and the shadow economy. He said that three of his biggest concerns from 2018 were North Korea-linked hackers stealing millions from ATMs across the world, Russian hackers using antivirus software to steal US cyber capabilities to attack Ukraine’s online network and the accounts of millions of Chinese web users being compromised in a series of hacks.

At the forum, speakers also discussed mega-trends and forecast the future of economics and government policies in the region.

The role of Iran as a leading state sponsor of terror and the impact of US sanctions was a factor among many of the key discussions. Ross said: “The interesting thing with Iran in 2019 is to see how they will tackle the internal pressure internally due to there economic decline,” while Bremmer said it was likely that Tehran would seek to wait out the Trump administration.

The growing role of China also dominated discussions. Leon said: “The US and China are two heavyweights that will keep their battle going on but it will not need to escalate much more, due to the nature of global economic markets,” while speakers highlighted the “winding down” of the war in Yemen as a positive trend in 2019.

In the “State of the Arab World Economy in 2019,” Dr. Nasser Saidi, former Lebanese minister of economy and trade, and Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, senior vice president of the World Bank Group, said that there was a general consensus that the economic recession would most likely start in 2019 and predicted an era of “turbulence” over the next 12 months, including a ripple effect across the GCC caused by oil price fluctuations. 

At the same panel discussion, H.E Nasser Judeh, former deputy prime minister of foreign affairs of Jordan, Dr. Ayad Allawi, former prime minister of Iraq and the leader of the National Accord, and H.E Nabil Fahmy, former foreign minister of Egypt, deliberated on the regional landscape over the next 12 months, with Allawi warning that the region is a “fertile ground” for terrorist groups should it not stabilize and not implement reforms that the Arab world is in “dire need of.” 

Fahmy addressed Qatar relations, saying that while a fragmented Arab world comes at the expense of every country, he was “not optimistic for radical change” in Qatar’s policies and said that the GCC could not back down to a country that refuses to “change its internal methodology.” 

“Qatar has to be a player — not an adversary.”

Ahead of the forum, Mohammed Al-Gergawi, minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, and chairman of the organizing committee, said the Arab Strategy Forum was launched as a platform for balanced analysis by decision-makers to offer a clearer understanding of the economic and political outlook for the Arab region and the world.