WhatsApp privacy changes could turn off Saudi users: Cybersecurity experts

As a result, some Saudi WhatsApp users said they were now considering other similar messaging app options such as Telegram, and Signal.
As a result, some Saudi WhatsApp users said they were now considering other similar messaging app options such as Telegram, and Signal. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 29 June 2021

WhatsApp privacy changes could turn off Saudi users: Cybersecurity experts

WhatsApp privacy changes could turn off Saudi users: Cybersecurity experts
  • New update will require users to share data with Facebook, previously optional

RIYADH: A controversial new WhatsApp privacy policy could see many Saudi users switch off to the Kingdom’s favorite instant messaging app, cybersecurity experts claim.
From Feb. 8, users of the popular mobile social media platform will no longer be able to access the service unless they have accepted the update and will be forced to delete their accounts.
Under the terms of the new policy, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, will be able to collect users’ data from the app such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, product interaction, payment info, crash, performance, and other diagnostic data, customer support, and metadata.
As a result, some Saudi WhatsApp users said they were now considering other similar messaging app options such as Telegram, and Signal.
Telegram only collects a user’s name, phone number, contacts, and user ID, while Signal just requires a mobile phone number for registration with no link to the individual’s identity.
Saudi cybersecurity expert, Faisal Alomran, told Arab News: “Facebook applications are known for collecting too much personal information about their users, allegedly for the purpose of delivering better user content experiences.
“However, the concern of data privacy is growing on normal users as they become more aware of the consequences of their private data being leaked,” he said.
Alomran added that from a cybersecurity point of view, while the likelihood of breaching a company such as Facebook was low, the impact if it happened would be “very high” as data gathered by hackers would expose end-user private information.
“Signal is widely considered to be one of the best applications when it comes to data privacy, as it claims to only collect the phone number for user registration,” he said.
According to Global Media Insight, a Dubai-based research company, 26.25 million Saudis use WhatsApp for instant messaging, making up 71 percent of instant messaging users in the Kingdom at the time of this article’s publication.
As well as private messaging, WhatsApp is also used for professional purposes in workplaces, schools, and universities.
Sarah Al-Saleh, a university student from Riyadh, told Arab News that WhatsApp was “not optional” for students.
“At the start of almost every class in a semester, we create a WhatsApp group that we use to share notes, updates about class times, dates of quizzes, and so on,” she said.
“Even the instructors will join the groups to make sure we are not cheating, and to inform us if classes are cancelled so we don’t waste time waiting for them if they’re not going to show. And if a student misses a class, we can help them ensure that they can catch up easily,” she added.
Abdullah Aloudah, a private-sector employee, said: “It’s almost impossible to get work done without WhatsApp. We use it internally, and even clients from outside the company will use it to contact us. No matter how many times I ask them to email me instead of WhatsApp me, they will always prefer to text.
“Apart from the data concerns, I find it so invasive, and it makes it that much harder to separate my work life from my personal one.”
Facebook is no stranger to privacy controversies. The company has repeatedly been accused of data mining, privacy breaches, and selling private data to third parties. It has also been banned in countries such as China, Iran, and Syria.
WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, two former Yahoo! executives, as a free alternative to SMS text messages which charged users for each individual message sent.
Facebook announced plans to acquire WhatsApp in February 2014 and paid $21.8 billion, amounting to $55 per user.

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta

Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta
Updated 55 sec ago

Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta

Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta
  • Russia files court case against Google and Meta for failure to delete content that Moscow deems illegal
MOSCOW: Russia’s state communications regulator Roskomnadzor has filed cases against US tech firms Google and Meta that could see fines imposed on their annual turnover in Russia, a Moscow court said on Friday.
Roskomnadzor in October threatened both Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook with fines based on a percentage of their annual turnover for a repeated failure to delete content that Moscow deems illegal.
Russian law allows for companies to be fined between 5 percent and 10 percent of annual turnover for repeated violations.
Moscow’s Tagansky District Court said court dates for both companies — neither of which immediately responded to a request for comment — were set for Dec. 24.
Russia has increased pressure on foreign tech companies as it seeks to assert greater control over the Internet, slowing down Twitter since March and routinely fining others for content violations.
Google has paid more than 32 million roubles in fines this year. Google, Twitter and Meta have significantly reduced the number of posts prohibited by Moscow on their platforms.
Russia last month demanded that 13 foreign and mostly US technology companies be officially represented on Russian soil by the end of 2021 or face possible restrictions or outright bans.

Google delays mandatory return to office beyond Jan. 10

Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10. (File/AFP)
Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10. (File/AFP)
Updated 8 min 52 sec ago

Google delays mandatory return to office beyond Jan. 10

Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10. (File/AFP)
  • Google delays return to office indefinitely amid growing concerns over COVID-19 variant

LONDON: Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Thursday it is indefinitely pushing back its January return-to-office plan globally amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and some resistance to company-mandated vaccinations.
Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from Jan. 10 at the earliest, ending its voluntary work-from-home policy.
On Thursday, Google executives told employees that the company would put off the deadline beyond that date. Insider first reported the news.
Google said the update was in line with its earlier guidance that a return to workplaces would begin no earlier than Jan. 10 and depend on local conditions.
Nearly 40 percent of US employees have come into an office in recent weeks, Google said, with higher percentages in other parts of the world.
But CNBC reported last week that hundreds of employees have protested the company’s vaccination mandate for those working on US government contracts.
Google was one of the first companies to ask its employees to work from home during the pandemic. It has about 85 offices across nearly 60 countries.
Europe has so far recorded 79 cases of the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, the European Union’s public health agency said earlier on Thursday.


INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region

INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region
Updated 32 min 53 sec ago

INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region

INTERVIEW: Influencer marketing has matured a lot in the region
  • Maha Mahdy, head of AnyTag for AnyMind Group in MENA, discusses influencer marketing’s growth and evolution in the region

DUBAI: AnyMind Group, a brand enablement platform for influencers, marketers, publishers and businesses, recently announced new updates to its influencer marketing platform, AnyTag, which it launched at the beginning of this year.

Since launching the AnyTag platform for marketers and the AnyCreator mobile app for influencers in the Middle East and North Africa region, the company has seen significant growth with a current database of more than 5000 influencers across 11 countries, and agency partners and marketers including Pizza Hut and Talabat.

The new features on AnyTag include automated recommendations of similar influencers through lookalike modeling of an influencer’s content, the detection of brands an influencer has worked with in the past, and the identification and visualization of hashtags an influencer frequently uses.

AnyTag also has a social media analytics module that enables users to track key statistics on a brand’s own social media channels, together with competitor analysis, hashtag analysis and interactions analysis to identify the performance of mentioned and tagged posts of a brand by social media users.

Arab News spoke to Maha Mahdy, head of AnyTag for AnyMind Group in MENA, to discuss the evolution of influencer marketing from the days of YouTube and Facebook to Snapchat and TikTok.

Maha Mahdy, head of AnyTag for AnyMind Group in MENA. (Supplied)

Influencer marketing has been around for a while. How has it changed and where is it at today?

Over the past two years, influencer marketing got a really big boost in popularity; in part, due to the fact that there were a lot of budgets to spend, which would otherwise have been spent on things like events and so on, which got canceled.

There was also a huge shift in how influencer marketing operated in the past two years because everybody was adapting to the new normal. So, we saw people trying out different platforms and topics. For example, travel influencers were no longer traveling so they would talk about other topics such as fitness.

With that shift in platforms, formats and topics, brands started to jump on to see if there were new ways to work with influencers that didn’t necessarily fit the brand before.

One of the most interesting things about influencer marketing in the region is that it has matured a lot — both from a client and influencer perspective.

What does that maturity look like for clients and how is it reflected in the marketing?

If the target audience wants something, you need to find a way to give it to them and put your brand in the messaging. And so brands have started to let go of the reins; they held on very tightly for the past five years because it’s very difficult to trust somebody from outside the organization to communicate on your behalf.

But, it’s about finding that sweet spot — how do I, as a brand, give them (influencers) guidelines but then let them create the content? That’s massive maturity for a brand.

As marketers maintain that balancing act between their own corporate guidelines and influencers’ creative freedom, what are the things that they need to keep in mind when working with influencers?

One of the key things is to let go of the reins a little bit. Another thing that you would think is quite basic, but is still so important, is choosing the right influencer — it’s so crucial to select the right influencer to work with.

A lot of brands are still looking at the number of followers an influencer has, and quite frankly that doesn’t give you much on what an influencer can do for you. That’s why we have a multi-point, data-driven approach through the AnyTag platform wherein we look at everything from influencers’ engagement metrics to demographics.

There also needs to be brand synergy. When people see this person talking about your brand, does it make sense or does it look forced? We also look at things like their collaboration history, which includes whether they have worked with competitors or have bad-mouthed the brand in the past.

Looking at the platform side of influencer marketing, how has that changed from it being predominantly Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to now Snapchat and TikTok?

Selecting the right platform is one of the most important things when we’re planning out a campaign and that comes down to the target audience. We’re also looking at the category, so, for example, when it comes to fashion, we know Instagram is inspirational and aspirational; with gamers, it’s YouTube.

The target audience and category work hand in hand. So, if I’m looking to target Gen Z, instantly our first thought is exploring TikTok. However, if I want to communicate with Saudi moms, I have to integrate Snapchat, because these target groups live and breathe TikTok and Snapchat respectively.

Then there’s also the format. Using the same examples, Gen Z and Saudi moms both like quick content formats so TikTok and Snapchat make sense versus older millennials who would like a good 15-minute IGTV video on an interesting topic.

Is there any particular platform that outperforms others for influencer marketing?

Looking at the campaigns we have run on AnyTag, I can see a clear preference for Instagram in the MENA region. The reason for that is the ease of use of the platform, a very high level of data availability, and the numerous content formats. Instagram really won the game with content formats because it has everything from Stories, to photos, to different video formats like Reels, which is quick, and IGTV, which is long-form.

So, Instagram dominated the space but TikTok also cemented its position last year and YouTube will always be a strong player for the MENA region because there are really strong technology and gaming influencers, as well as children’s channels, on the platform. In Saudi Arabia, however, I would rank Snapchat as high as Instagram, but that’s only in KSA as we don’t see much demand for it outside the Kingdom.


Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021
Updated 02 December 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021
  • WARC data reveals the advertising market grew to $771 billion

DUBAI: New advertising spend forecasts for 100 markets worldwide show that the global ad market grew 23.8 percent in 2021 to reach $771 billion and is on course to reach a value of $1 trillion in 2025, according to marketing intelligence firm WARC.

This year marks the strongest growth in the last four decades, with advertising investment forecasted to rise 12.5 percent in 2022 and 8.3 percent in 2023.

Data reveals that more than half of advertising spend is going to just three companies: Alphabet, Meta, and Amazon. According to a recent WARC survey, two out of three marketers who have already committed budgets to Amazon are intending to increase that spend.

Social media platforms are also forecasted to see increased advertising investment with advertising professionals planning to increase spending on TikTok (66 percent), YouTube (61 percent), Instagram (60 percent), and Google (57 percent) next year.

“Despite potential headwinds, market data show that we are currently witnessing a boom in advertising trade like none seen before, led by increased demand for retail media and ancillary publishers such as Google and Instagram, which is now the world’s largest social platform,” said James McDonald, director of data, intelligence and forecasting at WARC. 

When it comes to digital media, e-commerce is expected to lead the growth with Amazon on course to amass over $57 billion in advertising revenue by 2023 — a massive 72 percent increase from this year.

Social media was the fastest-growing online sector in 2021 with advertising spend rising by 41.9 percent. Instagram grew to become the largest social media platform in 2021 after overtaking the core Facebook platform for the first time and is forecasted to control over one-third of the global social media market in the next two years. TikTok’s ad revenue increased 51.5 percent this year and is expected to record growth of 75.4 percent in 2022.

Premium online video platforms YouTube and Amazon Prime Video were worth a combined $63.7 billion to advertisers in 2021, up 41.6 percent from a year earlier.

Search advertising continues to grow, making Alphabet the world’s largest media owner and Google the largest individual platform. Google’s advertising revenue rose by 40.6 percent to $146.3 billion this year — taking 79.7 percent of all search spend and 19 percent of all advertising spend worldwide. Google’s growth is set to ease to 14.8 percent in 2022.

With podcasts and music streaming increasing in popularity, advertising spend on online audio rose by one-third to $5.4 billion in 2021, with podcast spend up 50.9 percent and streaming up 28.4 percent. Both formats are expected to continue to grow with the online audio sector’s worth increasing to $8.3 billion by 2023.

With regards to traditional media, advertiser spend on TV grew 5.5 percent this year and is projected to grow by 3.3 percent next year. Linear TV is set to remain larger than premium video services such as YouTube and Amazon Prime Video, though its share of global ad spend will dip below a fifth as broadcaster’s video-on-demand services attract incremental spend.

The out-of-home market recorded a recovery of 21.8 percent this year, but it was not enough to offset the 28.2 percent decline recorded in 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak first brought the world to a standstill. 

The pandemic’s impact was also evident in the cinema advertising sector, as spend heavily declined in 2020 by 71.2 percent. However, this year, spending rebounded to record a rise of 149.9 percent as cinemas opened back up and big movie releases hit the theaters.

Investment in broadcast radio ads rose by 8.4 percent this year and is set to grow by 3.5 percent in 2022 and 1.5 percent in 2023, by when the market will be worth $34.3 billion. This makes it the only legacy medium set to record continuous growth over the forecast period.

Advertising spend on print and online news brands dipped by 4 percent this year, while the magazines market was down 6.6 percent.

“New coronavirus variants, such as omicron, may have a negative impact on our current outlook, and while our base scenario assumes that impact is muted, we will continue to review that position each quarter,” said McDonald.

That said, some companies will remain immune to the effects COVID-19. “Amazon is expected to finish the year with an ad business worth $12 billion more than the start of the outbreak, the newly anointed Meta will be $31 billion wealthier, and Alphabet drew an additional $59 billion from brands before costs,” he added.


Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good
Updated 03 December 2021

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good
  • Facebook fights antitrust lawsuit that demands it sell Instagram and WhatsApp

WASHINGTON: Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook has asked a US court to dismiss and not allow the refiling of an antitrust lawsuit by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requests that the company sell two major subsidiaries, photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp.

In its court filing, Facebook argued that the FTC had “no plausible factual support” for its claim that the company has the market clout to push up prices in the social network market. The social media giant also said the FTC failed to “plausibly establish” that Facebook acted illegally to protect a monopoly.

Facebook also pressed again for FTC Chair Lina Khan to be recused from the matter, arguing that her participation in a vote to approve the lawsuit was improper because of her criticism of the company before she joined the agency.

The FTC’s high-profile case against Facebook represents one of the biggest challenges the government has brought against a tech company in decades, and is being closely watched as Washington aims to tackle Big Tech’s extensive market power. 

The FTC had originally sued Facebook during the Trump administration, and its complaint was rejected by the court. It filed an amended complaint in August, adding more details to its accusation that the social media company crushed or bought rivals, and once again asking a judge to force the company to sell Instagram and WhatsApp. 

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the 26-page filing.

The case is being tried by Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.