CANNES: The Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) concluded its participation in the Cannes Lions Festival for International Creativity on Thursday with an impressive night of art and music and panels on digital well-being and connectivity.
SRMG partnered with the region’s leading music platform, Anghami, to organize a special night called ‘MENA Night’ which was attended by many talents, creators, media experts and award winners of the Festival.
“Celebrating the creative talents who represented the MENA region at the Cannes Lions Festival is a unique opportunity to showcase their incredible talent and innovation to the world,” said Jomana Al-Rashid, CEO of SRMG.
“At SRMG, we are delighted to host the talents that represented the MENA region at the Cannes Lions Festival, and as one of the most respected and largest media groups in the Middle East, we always, and will continue to, embrace the best and brightest talent from the region and the world.”
Various rising stars from the Middle East attended the event, including Bird Pearson, Lush and Samee’ Lamee’ from Saudi music entertainment company ‘Middle Beast.’
Guests also had an exclusive look at NFT artworks from regional artists and creators including Faisal Al-Khuraiji, Alaa Balkhi, Amr Boughari and Rex Chouk.
The show was organized by Nuqta, the first collaborative, mobile and web app, which invites the public to post images of Arabic calligraphy and typography as they experience it anywhere.
The media powerhouse hosted a series of interactive panel discussions and a virtual experience in a dedicated pavilion at the festival throughout the week.
Al-Rashid outlined SRMG’s digital transformation strategy and its vision to upgrade from one of the largest and most influential media groups in the MENA region into an integrated global media giant.
In one panel moderated by Haifa Al-Jedea, managing director of SRMG Think, the media group hosted Larissa May, founder and executive director of #HalfTheStory, in conversation with Abdullah Al-Rashid, founder of Sync Summit and director at Ithra.
The panel discussed the importance of raising awareness of the negative impacts of 24/7 connectivity on our health and well-being.
The panelists called on digital platforms to prioritize the digital well-being of young people by incorporating ethical design principles.
May said that the role of #HalfTheStory is to empower the next generation of consumers to “thrive online and in life,” and to set boundaries for their digital use.
“We often don’t step back and notice how our devices have infiltrated our lives — especially those of us who work in the media industry,” she added.
Meanwhile, Abdullah Al-Rashid said that Saudis are among the world’s top users of YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter in some metrics. He asked guests: “The majority of our population are connected all the time and have only ever experienced that way of life. What does that mean for them?”
In another panel, Riad Hamade, director of business news at Asharq Business with Bloomberg, a subsidiary of SRMG, was joined by Rebecca Bezzina, SVP and managing director at R/GA London; Per Pedersen, founder and global creative chairman of by The Network; and Laurent Thevenet, head of creative technology at Publicis Groupe APAC and MEA.
The panel explored how technology is creating new ways to tell stories and disrupt the communications industry.
SRMG, one of the largest media and publishing groups in the Middle East, owns more than 30 major media outlets in the region, including Arab News, Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News and Sayidaty.
Afghan girls struggle with poor Internet as Taliban force them to turn to online classes
Going online represents last resort since Taliban have closed girls’ high schools, universities
Although internet is not banned, students grapple with slow speed, power cuts, poor infrastructure
Updated 9 sec ago
KABUL: Sofia logs in to class on a laptop in Kabul for an online English course run by one of a growing number of educational institutes trying to reach Afghanistan’s girls and women digitally in their homes. But when the teacher calls on Sofia to read a passage her computer screen freezes. “Can you hear me?” she asks repeatedly, checking her connection. After a while, her computer stutters back to life. “As usual,” a fellow student equally frustrated with the poor communications sighs as the class gets going again. Sofia, 22, is one of a growing stream of Afghan girls and women going online as a last resort to get around the Taliban administration’s restrictions on studying and working. Taliban officials, citing what they call problems including issues related to Islamic dress, have closed girls’ highschools, barred their access to universities and stopped most women from working at non-governmental organizations. One of the most striking changes since the Taliban were first in power from 1996 to 2001, is the explosion of the Internet. Virtually no one had access to the Internet when the Taliban were forced from power in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. After nearly two decades of Western-led intervention and engagement with the world, 18 percent of the population had Internet access, according to the World Bank. The Taliban administration has allowed girls to study individually at home and has not moved to ban the Internet, which its officials use to make announcements via social media. But girls and women face a host of problems from power cuts, to cripplingly slow Internet speeds, let alone the cost of computers and wifi in a country where 97 percent of people live in poverty. “For girls in Afghanistan, we have a bad, awful Internet problem,” Sofia said. Her online school, Rumi Academy, saw its enrolment of mostly females rise from about 50 students to more than 500 after the Taliban took over in 2021. It has had hundreds more applications but cannot enrol them for now because of a lack of funds for teachers and to pay for equipment and Internet packages, a representative of the academy said.
’TOO HARD’ Sakina Nazari tried a virtual language class at her home in the west of Kabul for a week after she was forced to leave her university in December. But she abandoned it in frustration after battling the problems. “I couldn’t continue,” she said. “It’s too hard to access Internet in Afghanistan and sometimes we have half an hour of power in 24 hours.” Seattle-based Ookla, which compiles global Internet speeds, put Afghanistan’s mobile Internet as the slowest of 137 countries and its fixed Internet as the second slowest of 180 countries. Some Afghans have started calling on SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk to introduce its satellite Internet service Starlink to Afghanistan, as it has done in Ukraine and Iran, posting requests for help on Twitter, which he owns. “We also call on Elon Musk to help us,” Sofia said. “If they would be able to (introduce) that in Afghanistan, it would be very, very impactful for women.” SpaceX spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment. Online schools are trying their best to accommodate Afghanistan’s pupils. Daniel Kalmanson, spokesperson for online University of the People, which has had more than 15,000 applications from Afghan girls and women since the Taliban took over, said students could attend lectures at any time that conditions allowed them to, and professors granted extensions for assignments and exams when students faced connection problems. The non-profit group Learn Afghanistan, which runs several community-based schools in which some teachers run classes remotely, makes its curriculum available for free in Afghanistan’s main languages. Executive director Pashtana Durrani said the group also ensured that lessons were available via radio, which is widely used in rural areas. She was working with international companies to find solutions to poor Internet access but said she could not elaborate. “Afghanistan needs to be a country where the Internet is accessible, digital devices need to be pumped in,” Durrani said. Sofia said Afghan women had grown used to problems over years of war and they would persevere no matter what. “We still have dreams and we will not give up, ever.”
Twitter said code posted on GitHub infringe copyrights, requested to be taken down
Updated 41 min 48 sec ago
NEW YORK: Some parts of Twitter’s source code — the fundamental computer code on which the social network runs — were leaked online, the social media company said in a legal filing on Sunday that was first reported by The New York Times.
According to the legal document, filed with the US District Court of the Northern District of California, Twitter had asked GitHub, an Internet hosting service for software development, to take down the code where it was posted. The platform complied and said the content had been disabled, according to the filing. Twitter also asked the court to identify the alleged infringer or infringers who posted Twitter’s source code on systems operated by GitHub without Twitter’s authorization.
Twitter, based in San Francisco, noted in the filing that the postings infringe copyrights held by Twitter.
The leak creates more challenges for billionaire Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last October for $44 billion and took the company private. Since then, it has been engulfed in chaos, with massive layoffs and advertisers fleeing.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is probing Musk’s mass layoffs at Twitter and trying to obtain his internal communications as part of ongoing oversight into the social media company’s privacy and cybersecurity practices, according to documents described in a congressional report.
Microsoft threatens to restrict data from rival AI search tools — Bloomberg News
The company has told at least two customers that using its Bing search index to feed their AI chat tools violates the terms of their contract
Updated 27 March 2023
Microsoft Corp. has threatened to cut off access to its Internet-search data, which it licenses to rival search engines, if they do not stop using it as the basis for their own artificial intelligence chat products, Bloomberg News reported on Friday.
The company has told at least two customers that using its Bing search index — a map of the Internet that can be scanned in real time — to feed their AI chat tools violates the terms of their contract, the news agency said, citing people familiar with the dispute.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft may also terminate licenses providing access to its search index, Bloomberg added.
“We’ve been in touch with partners who are out of compliance as we continue to consistently enforce our terms across the board,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Reuters, adding that the company will continue to work with them directly and give information needed to find a path forward.
The maker of the Windows operating system had said in February it was revamping its Bing search engine and Edge Web browser with artificial intelligence, signaling its ambition to retake the lead in consumer technology markets where it has fallen behind.
The upgraded Bing search engine was rolled out to users late last month.
Company promises ‘a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight’
Saudi Broadcasting Authority, MBC Group among media partners
Updated 25 March 2023
DUBAI: The holy month of Ramadan is a time for enjoying local shows for many people in the Middle East.
Traditionally, these would be viewed on the TV through satellite channels, but the proliferation of the internet and social media has seen people turn to other devices for their daily dose of entertainment.
Last year, for example, there was a 167 percent increase in Google searches for “series” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the tech company’s regional arm.
Now, Snapchat has announced it is launching more than 100 new shows during the holy month in partnership with media companies and content creators.
“This Ramadan, we are partnering with some of the region’s most trusted media partners and fan favorite creators to showcase a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight,” said Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc. for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Those partners include Saudi Broadcasting Authority, MBC Group, Augustus Media, 7awi and Rotana Media Group.
The show lineup includes “Netflorex,” “THAT,” “Marahel,” “Tash Returns,” “Studio 23,” “Ramez Never End” and “Madraset Banat Alyoum.”
The offering also includes content from regional and global creators such as Saudi-based comedian Bader Saleh, food creator and entrepreneur Ahmad Alzahabi and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of online community and show “Muslim Girl.”
Last year, Snapchat users spent 31 percent more time watching Ramadan content than they did in 2021, Freijeh said.
The new content will be available on Snapchat through its Discover and Spotlight sections.
As the Arab world watches on, is the clock ticking for TikTok?
The impact and implications of TikTok’s growing influence in the MENA region are a global concern with more questions than answers after a congressional hearing with app CEO
TikTok CEO’s mounting woes as security concerns place him in the hotseat at a US congressional hearing with the world looking on for answers
Updated 25 March 2023
Zaira Lakhpatwala TAREK ALI AHMAD
DUBAI/LONDON: In yet another congressional hearing-turned-nail-biting drama, TikTok’s CEO was the latest global tech chief to take center stage before the US Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive of perhaps the world’s most popular app, was in the same hot seat that previously hosted the likes of Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
People from around the globe tuned in to see how Chew would justify and ensure US user data was safe and protected.
TikTok’s Chinese roots are not just an issue for US citizens; “it impacts the world,” Giles Crouch, a digital anthropologist, told Arab News.
“While the Chinese government doesn’t own a majority share in TikTok, they do own what’s called a ‘golden share,’ so they have a seat at the board,” he added.
India has already banned the app entirely, while Canada, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand, Taiwan, the UK and the US have banned TikTok on government devices. However, the app still operates fully across the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia alone, a country with a majority youth population, the app has 26.39 million users — the most in the region. Iraq and Egypt both have more than 23 million users, while the UAE has almost 6 million.
For five hours, bipartisan lawmakers grilled Chew over a range of topics, namely the claim that the Chinese Communist Party has access to TikTok user data, as well as fears over the platform’s algorithms and content that could have a potentially harmful impact on young people.
The questioning ended with a frustrated committee unsatisfied with Chew’s responses. The CEO, when given the chance to answer questions, often came across as evasive, resorting to “I’ll get back to you with specifics.”
Such hesitation and evasiveness has become a cause for concern among users and governments around the globe, with France taking the decision to ban the app on administrative phones just one day after the hearing.
“Our CEO, Shou Chew, came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety,” a TikTok MENA spokesperson told Arab News, relaying the same response issued by the global company.
Last year, TikTok announced the $1.5 billion Project Texas initiative to protect the data of its US users. The plan, which is estimated to cost the company $700 million to $1 billion per year, hopes to address government concerns about user data privacy risks and content recommendations.
During the hearing, the committee questioned Chew about Project Texas, with some members asking how the $1.5 billion would be allocated. Other members remained skeptical of the project, as well as TikTok’s ability to truly safeguard US data.
Many, if not all, committee members seemed to believe that TikTok is essentially an arm of the Chinese government. Although Chew said that he has not seen any “evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data; they have never asked us, we have not provided it,” several members openly voiced their disbelief.
“I find that actually preposterous,” said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
In a recent column, however, Al Arabiya News Channel’s Mamdouh Al-Muhaini claimed that “both arguments (of spying and propaganda spreading) are absurd and lack conclusive evidence. Rather, they are being used merely for political blackmail — to force China to make concessions amid international conflict between Beijing and Washington.
“The war on TikTok comes in the context of the race between America — and the West — and China. In a war for influence, brains and hearts, all weapons, accusations and pretexts can be used,” he said, adding that the app was “being used as a device in the (US-China) cold war.”
An FBI and Department of Justice investigation into TikTok’s ability to spy on US citizens also undermined Chew’s case. Last year, parent company ByteDance confirmed that its employees used TikTok to track and obtain the IP addresses of multiple US journalists covering the app.
Yet, when Congressman Neal Dunn asked Chew if ByteDance is spying on US citizens, the CEO shakily replied: “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.”
The Chinese minister of foreign affairs held a press briefing the following day, with a spokesperson saying: “The Chinese government has never asked and will never ask any company or individual to collect or provide data, information or intelligence located abroad against local laws.
“The US government has provided no evidence or proof that TikTok threatens US national security, yet it has repeatedly suppressed and attacked the company based on the presumption of guilt.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning added that the US should “respect the principles of a market economy and fair competition, stop suppressing foreign companies and provide an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies operating in the US.”
While a plethora of countries in the West chimed in on the debate, governments across the Middle East have largely stayed silent.
In a previous interview with Arab News, Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber said that concerns over TikTok’s data security stemmed from the app’s country of origin as well as Chinese rules and regulations.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.
Apart from the focus on spying and data collection, members of congress also grilled the TikTok CEO over the platform’s algorithms for content suggestions and discovery, particularly among vulnerable audiences. Members asked why certain content is allowed to be published on the platform — unlike on China’s sister app Douyin, which is heavily censored.
“TikTok can be very good for kids but the way it’s used in China is very different from the way it’s used in the rest of the world — what kids are seeing in Riyadh or Dubai is very different from what they’re going to be seeing in Beijing,” said Crouch, the digital anthropologist.
Douyin features “very positive and uplifting content” that encourages “doing good for the community, helping one another and being very sociable,” he added.
But in other countries, “they (TikTok) literally use algorithms which manipulate young kids’ minds so they get served with content that is mindless, often negative, and can be disturbing to those minds,” Crouch said.
Chew attributed the contrast in content on TikTok and Douyin to the different laws in each country. That argument is true to some extent, because the Chinese government does have more control over content posted on domestic platforms.
“They put the controls in place in China to stop kids from being overly stimulated,” said Crouch. But “they just don’t care for the rest of the world because they’re out to make money.”
In some aspects, including dangerous content, TikTok is very much like any other social media company, many of which originated in Silicon Valley — a fact acknowledged by some members of the committee.
Senior executives from Meta, Twitter and Google have all appeared before US Congress in an attempt to allay concerns over data, privacy and moderation.
However, as Congressman Dan Crenshaw said in the hearing, all social media companies collect personal data and could use it to “influence narratives and trends, create misinformation campaigns, encourage self-destructive behavior, purposefully allow drug cartels to communicate freely and organize human and drug trafficking.”
But the difference is that “it’s only TikTok that is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”