Britain open to law to combat rise in online scams, says financial minister

The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud. (File/AFP)
The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2021

Britain open to law to combat rise in online scams, says financial minister

The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud. (File/AFP)
  • Britain is open to legislating a law to stop an explosion in scam adverts online, says financial services minister

LONDON: Britain is open to legislating to stop an explosion in scam adverts online being a significant source of fraud, financial services minister John Glen has told lawmakers.
Victims’ groups and campaigners have called for fraudulent adverts to be incorporated in the government’s planned Online Safety Bill, which currently only covers user-generated content.
“We are very sympathetic to that,” Glen told the Treasury Select Committee. “This is a massive problem. This is a significant opportunity in the absence of a better solution.”
A British record of 754 million pounds ($1 billion) was stolen in the first six months of this year, up 30 percent from the same period in 2020, according to data from banking industry body UK Finance, and up more than 60 percent from 2017, when it began compiling the figures.
Several government departments are involved in trying to stop online scams, raising concerns among committee members that solutions are too slow to emerge.
“You’re being very good at describing how difficult it all is, but what are you actually going to be doing about it?” said lawmaker Angela Eagle.
Glen said the finance ministry was liaising with the digital, culture, media and sport ministry (DCMS) — which is also looking at the problem of online scams — to try and find the best solution.
The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud.
Cybersecurity experts and banks have said Britain has become a global target for fraud attacks due to relatively light policing of fraud-related crime, a super-fast payments infrastructure and use of the world’s most widely used language English.
“This is an absolute priority. I am not satisfied where we are on this,” Glen said, adding that prevention needs to be a big part of the response.
“The challenge is how can we make effective intervention that is really going to bear down on this,” Glen said.


Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shareholders approve business combination with Anghami

Vistas Media Acquisition Company shareholders have approved a business combination with Anghami. (Supplied)
Vistas Media Acquisition Company shareholders have approved a business combination with Anghami. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2022

Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shareholders approve business combination with Anghami

Vistas Media Acquisition Company shareholders have approved a business combination with Anghami. (Supplied)
  • Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shares rose more than 20 percent in premarket trading on Friday

NEW YORK: Shareholders of Vistas Media Acquisition Co. on Wednesday voted to approve a business combination with Anghami, one of the leading music streaming platforms in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The proposal was supported by approximately 98 percent of the publicly traded special-purpose acquisition firm’s shareowners.

The special meeting vote followed last year’s announcement by the companies of the launch of Vibe Music Arabia, a joint venture record label between Sony Music Entertainment Middle East, and Anghami.

Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shares rose more than 20 percent in premarket trading on Friday after the approval announcement, according to Market Watch.


Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?

Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?
Updated 21 January 2022

Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?

Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?
  • Rise of luxury content on social media reflects different reality as businesses struggle in post-pandemic world

DUBAI: With 1 million followers, Busra Duran’s Instagram presence is nothing short of a fairytale. From traveling through Moscow to sipping drinks in Dubai, Duran is living the life of a classic luxury influencer in the Middle East.

In fact, it is why she moved from Turkey to Dubai. “This is where the big brands are,” her husband Gokhan Gunduz told The Guardian. “She’s showing off her lifestyle in Dubai, to attract people. It’s not just Busra who benefits — Dubai benefits too.”

Duran is, of course, one of the many social media influencers whose accounts are flooded with pictures and videos of exotic locations, fancy restaurants, the latest beauty treatments, and so on.

The same is true for many Lebanese influencers whose Instagram accounts tell stories of travel, food, beauty, and shopping. There is, of course, no mention of closed businesses, lost jobs, ill health, or abandoned homes. The reality of the country’s condition is betrayed by its social media accounts.

Lebanon’s economy contracted by 20 percent in 2020, according to data from the World Bank, and 35 percent of businesses shut down stores or closed branches in 2021, according to the Beirut Traders Association.

The Lebanese are a resilient people. Through bombings and assassinations, the country has survived, and its people have found success and happiness in Lebanon and other countries.

However, now, with the Lebanese pound trading on the black market at nearly 20 times its value two years ago, many are struggling to afford even basic necessities, let alone a holiday or fancy night out. The economic situation in the country is the worst it has been in more than 150 years. Prices have skyrocketed in Lebanon, which imports more than 80 percent of its basic goods.

But such stories are not posted on Instagram.

Flaunting wealth on social media can have a dire impact on the emotional and mental well-being of users — especially when people are struggling for basic necessities and businesses are shutting down.

Aditi Bhatia, a lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University Dubai, told Arab News: “At a time when many have suffered financial losses themselves, seeing wealth or luxury being flaunted on social media is likely to remind people of their own inadequacies and also create a false impression of their peer group.”

“We live in a world in which many people across the globe are without basic necessities or otherwise in need, and that’s an unfortunate reality in both good times and bad,” said Dubai-based influencer Becky Jefferies. “But I don’t see social media as a cause — or solution — to economic challenges on a micro or macro level.”

“That said, I do feel that influencers should assume a certain level of responsibility when it comes to how they utilize their personal platforms. Many of them have earned the trust of a mass audience and should therefore be mindful about doing the right thing, such as not tolerating or spreading hate, or not feeding into unrealistic beauty standards,” Jefferies added.

Despite several influencers and celebrities trying to show the reality of life on social media, much of the content tends to highlight the good parts of their lives, not the bad. “People tend to selectively share a higher number of personal successes online than failures,” Bhatia said.

She noted that the social comparison theory suggested “that humans have an innate need to compare themselves with others, in order to make sense of their own abilities and social standing.”

According to the theory, people either made upward comparisons by comparing themselves to those they considered better or more successful, or downward comparisons by comparing themselves to those they felt were worse off or less successful.

“Individuals who tend to make more upward social comparisons can experience a range of negative mental health effects such as low self-esteem, increased stress, self-harm, depressive symptoms, and loneliness,” Bhatia added.

In February last year, Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, announced it had banned almost 4,000 users for deliberately showing off their wealth. In November, Xiaohongshu, an app similar to Instagram, said its team had disciplined 240 accounts since May for posting “wealth-bragging content.”

The moves are part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s nationwide effort to redistribute wealth. Authorities have ordered social media platforms to remove any content that flaunts wealth, although the standards for determining content that qualifies are vague.

Speaking at a news conference last year, Zhang Yongjun, a senior official at China’s cyberspace administration, said: “The standard is the effect the content has. Can the spread of this content inspire people to be healthy, ambitious, and work harder for a beautiful life? Or does it cater to people’s vulgar desires?”

Despite the potential ill-effects of flaunting wealth on social media, regional authorities seem unlikely to regulate such content.

Fiona Robertson, partner, head of Cedar White Bradley’s media and technology practice, said: “China doesn’t allow a lot of content that we would consider benign. And that’s just the very controlling nature of the Chinese government, which we don’t have here.”

She pointed out that every country and government had its “thing” when it came to media regulation.

“The UK, for example, is very big on defamation. In this region, privacy is a big thing and breaching that privacy is taken very seriously. In the US, they take nudity in mainstream media very seriously.

“It’s just common worldwide and everyone has these rules that they have to comply with,” she added.

The region does have other rules, however, that social media influencers are expected to comply with. Last year, a Bangladeshi waiter in Dubai was sentenced to six months in prison after he added fake gunshots to a TikTok video.

Soon after, a social media influencer was jailed for three months and fined 100,000 Emirati dirhams ($27,225) following video footage that showed him driving a luxury vehicle at more than 205 kilometers an hour in Abu Dhabi. The passenger who recorded him also received a similar fine and both men were suspended from driving for six months and the car and their phones were confiscated. They were also banned from using their social media accounts for six months.

The Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection sector in Dubai Economy fined a car showroom last October for a misleading campaign that offered cars with special specifications, benefits, and gifts for consumers buying through a social media influencer.

“Dubai Economy holds the trader responsible for any misleading campaign found on the social media account of the company or conducted through a social media promoter,” the CCCP said in a statement.

Robertson said that liability often lay with the brand that the influencer was working with, an important consideration when brands used foreign influencers. “The influencers themselves are not licensed underneath our local laws so effectively, they haven’t necessarily signed up to the compliance that the brands themselves should and would have,” she added.

Around 85 percent of luxury consumers use social media, with each using an average of three platforms, according to a Deloitte study. It is no surprise then that social media plays a huge role for luxury brands, just like influencers play a huge role within social media.

“It’s important to keep in mind that many influential social accounts are just another medium for brands to reach people,” said Jefferies. “Faulting influencers for posting about their experiences would arguably be like denouncing brands for advertising premium goods and services.

“The fact that social media can encourage audiences to get out of their houses and try that new restaurant, shop at that new local boutique, or travel to that cool destination, it’s a positive thing — including for the economy,” added Jefferies.

On TikTok, for instance, users like to share specifics on what they are buying and make recommendations to their audiences leading to the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which amassed 4.6 billion views in 2021.

In the US alone, Generation Zs and millennials represent approximately $350 billion of spending power, according to management consulting firm McKinsey. These younger consumer groups — the biggest users of social media — have unprecedentedly higher spending power today. And while that may not be reflected in the world’s economies, it is on social media.

“Social media today has evolved to serve many roles beyond connecting people and providing a source of entertainment, one of which is giving individuals a voice and enabling access to information that could otherwise be censored, carefully spun, or filtered out by traditional news outlets,” said Jefferies.

She added: “Some influential users choose to use their platform in a positive way and some don’t. If some followers find certain types of content to be offensive or tone-deaf, they have the freedom to unfollow, just like we all have the freedom to share or say anything (in accordance with each platform’s respective community guidelines) — and that’s the beauty of social media.”


Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
Updated 20 January 2022

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
  • The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland
  • The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause

DUBAI: Facebook parent Meta Platforms removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran and targeted Instagram users in Scotland with content supporting Scottish independence, the company’s investigators said on Thursday.
The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland, posting photos and memes about current events and criticism of the United Kingdom’s government, Meta said.
The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause, though they at times misspelled them, the company said. The accounts also posted about football and UK cities, likely to make the fictitious personas seem more authentic.
The network used photos of media personalities and celebrities from the UK and Iran as well as profile pictures likely created through AI techniques, Meta said.
In a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, Scots voted 55 percent-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom, but both Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for independence among Scots and demands for a second vote.
Meta said its investigation found links to individuals in Iraq, including people with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.
It said the operation had some connections with a small Iran-based network it previously removed in December 2020, which mostly targeted Arabic, French and English-speaking audiences using fake accounts, but did not provide further details on who might be behind the activity.
“We’ve seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years,” said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, in a press briefing. “It’s not a monolithic environment.”
The social media company said it had removed eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts as part of this network in December for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.


TikTok advises advertisers to ‘lean in’ this Ramadan

Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan. (Supplied)
Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan. (Supplied)
Updated 20 January 2022

TikTok advises advertisers to ‘lean in’ this Ramadan

Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan. (Supplied)
  • Short-form video platform shares data and tips for advertising during holy month

DUBAI: Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan.

Historically, the holy month has attracted big money from advertisers, as consumers spend more on everything from household goods to luxury gifts in the period leading up to Ramadan as well as throughout the month.

Up to 75 percent of Muslims say they would like brands to cater to them during the fasting period, yet one-third of online users in MENA and Turkey block digital ads.

This reveals a disconnect between what audiences want and what brands are providing, according to Dana El Hassan, platform strategist at TikTok.

Brands need to be “part of the conversation and community” in order to provide an uninterrupted online experience for consumers, she said.

This is especially true on TikTok, where 61 percent of users believe brands are part of the open community.

El Hassan said that brands should focus on culture, content and commerce in order to integrate with the TikTok community.

A total of 89 percent of users look to TikTok for ideas on home decor, iftar and fashion during Ramadan, giving brands the chance to be a part of the cultural nuances of the month.

Last year, the entertainment category grew 1.7 times during Ramadan, which means brands have an opportunity to engage with a community seeking distraction, said El Hassan.

Additionally, over 50 percent of TikTok users agree that the platform has helped them decide what to buy and they spend 66 percent more on shopping than non-TikTok users during Ramadan.

The platform’s “entertaining, creative-centric and community-led content allows brands to turn inspiration into action, driving consumers to add to cart but also to heart,” added El Hassan.

Once brands decide to be on TikTok, they need to be mindful of their strategy.

Yasmin Mustafa, brand strategy lead, cautioned advertisers against adopting the same approach throughout the month. “Users’ attitudes and behaviors change and shift,” she said. Users are in preparation mode before Ramadan, and in a more celebratory mood toward the end of the month.

TikTok serves as a “stabilizer” by “providing lighthearted content and a sense of togetherness, enabling people to celebrate together,” added Mustafa. This is reflected in the numbers, with users remaining hyper-engaged throughout the month.

“If brands want to be relatable this Ramadan, they need to acknowledge the various sub-moments of Ramadan that are normally forgotten,” she said.

After brands have understood the audience mindset, content is key.

“Create with a TikTok-first mindset,” advised Rita Wehbe, head of the Shop, TikTok’s in-house service offering for brands. One such way is using sound effectively. For example, last year telco Orange’s Ramadan tune was used in 87,000 videos by TikTok users.

Lea Bitar, client partner at TikTok, said that third-party research shows the platform is 10 times more cost-efficient in driving brand awareness and consideration than TV, which typically dominates media spending during the holy month.

Last Ramadan, TikTok campaigns delivered 2.6 times more ad memorability and five times more purchase motivation than industry standards. The platform also drove an average lift of 4.1 percent in offline sales, according to a study conducted last Ramadan on three household and personal care brands in Saudi Arabia.

A winning Ramadan strategy includes planning, optimizing and measuring, said Bitar.

Brands can plan for impact by leveraging TikTok’s suite of solutions and selecting the right mix to hit their business goals and optimize their approach by using new features that the platform will add during Ramadan, such as affinity targeting and dayparting.


Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA

Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA
Updated 20 January 2022

Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA

Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA
  • Home furnishings retailer celebrates 25th anniversary by revealing new logo, growth proposition

DUBAI: Home furnishings retailer Home Centre has launched a new customer-centric campaign to mark its 25th anniversary celebrations.

As well as the “Inspired by You” campaign, the company has unveiled a new brand logo and proposition as part of its continued growth plan.

With more than 70 stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa region and Indian subcontinent, the firm aims to strengthen its value and provide products, services, and experiences based on customer demands, senior executives said during a virtual event.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many home dining tables turned into workstations and living rooms becoming playgrounds. The rapid change in consumer habits has resulted in a boom in house moves and home renovations, contributing to making 2021 the Home Centre’s best ever year, its chief executive officer, Sameer Jain, told the online gathering.

The versatility of home spaces had been reflected in the brand’s products, stores, and brand identity with a logo designed to take on many different forms, he said.

Home Centre bosses maintain that Saudi Arabia is an important market for the company with more than 70 percent of its staff (of which 50 percent are women) in the country being Saudi nationals in line with its commitment to Vision 2030 objectives for the diversification of employment opportunities and creation of jobs for women in the Kingdom’s private sector.

The firm plans to open new stores in Hail and Makkah, which will take its total number of outlets in Saudi Arabia to 30 and will be launching a new concept store in Mirdif, Dubai, which is set to be the largest in the Middle East at more than 80,000 square feet.

The new stores aim to offer a different shopping experience to customers with inspirational rooms and a strategic layout designed to display furniture and coordinated home accessories in proximity. In addition, the stores offer click-and-collect and personalized design services.

Despite the significant investment in retail stores, Jain told Arab News that e-commerce had seen strong growth over the last two years. He pointed out that being customer-centric meant that “we don’t want to decide how you shop; we want you to decide how you shop.”

He noted that Home Centre was one of the fastest-growing home retail brands in the e-commerce space.

“We started our e-commerce journey nearly seven years ago, and today we have double-digit revenues coming from e-commerce in all our markets and they are tending to grow even higher in some markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Jain added.