Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech
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Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech
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Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech
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Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech
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Updated 05 July 2022

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

RIYADH: Non-fungible tokens and blockchain technologies took the world by storm, dominating everything from the art space to advertising. Web3, a new blockchain-based version of the internet, and the metaverse are still fairly new concepts, but it seems like they are here to stay with more and more people — and businesses — experimenting with them.

XGUARD, for example, is an emerging company with offices in Riyadh, Dubai and Vienna, helping organizations and individuals navigate Web3 and the virtual space “one block at a time.”

In Riyadh, the company has been actively hosting informational sessions and workshops to help equip Saudis with the skills and tools needed to venture into Web3, open their own wallet, invest in or sell NFTs, grow their businesses and engage in virtual experiences. 

XGUARD first started as a sports promotion company in Dubai. After its founder Omar Aridi began venturing into these emerging technologies, his interest in them grew.

The industry in Saudi is still at a nascent stage, Aridi told Arab News.

He said: “I was planning on working in a very decentralized way. Saudi wasn’t just my focus, but then after reading the market and seeing how things are going, I think Saudi has the most appetite when it comes to [this space].” 

Just last month, the Saudi Tourism Ministry and Saudi Tourism Authority created NFT souvenirs that were presented to the heads of delegations participating in the 116th session of the UN World Tourism Organization executive council, held in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 and the whole direction of digital transformation and blockchain technologies and artificial intelligence — this makes it the perfect platform for us,” Aridi said. “The only bottleneck that we had were the cryptocurrency regulations, which I know are on the way. I think it’s better to be the first movers from now and the first adopters. When things get regulated, we know we will be the go-to consulting company here.”

Since cryptocurrencies are the most commonly used mode of payment in the metaverse, their lack of regulation has resulted in businesses being wary of entering this space. 

“The lack of trust comes from the lack of regulation, not from the technology,” Aridi said. “You need to pay with cryptocurrency, and that is the element that has not yet been regulated.”

In the Gulf region, the UAE has been spearheading the regulation of NFTs and cryptocurrencies by issuing the first cryptocurrency law and establishing the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority.

For businesses, enterprise NFT technologies themselves are key. “It brings a very well authenticated ownership documented on the blockchain. Nobody can erase it, and nobody can penetrate it,” Aridi said. 

In certain industries, having verified proof of ownership and secured data records can cut down on processing time, reduce fraud and error risks, provide immutable authenticity of products, manage critical data and ease the supply chain process.

Although the NFT, bitcoin and Ethereum markets are currently down as a result of cryptocurrencies crashing, Aridi is optimistic. “​​This is very good because the market has to [course] correct,” he said. “Hopefully, only the few proper solid value propositions will be sustained and XGUARD will be one of those because we are thinking of NFTs as a technology, not as a hype.” 

XGUARD provides companies with Web3 consulting, marketing, art and blockchain development, all under one roof. “In terms of competition, I don’t see anyone offering the value proposition that we provide, which is advisory, A-to-Z solutions. Nobody in Saudi Arabia is doing that yet,” said Aridi. 

For now, the company is adopting a predominantly educational approach. It has collaborated with local spaces and businesses, such as AlMashtal Creative Space in Riyadh and The Music Space in Jeddah, to build communities across the country. 

“We have a lot of artists, in Saudi Arabia specifically, that really want to be heard, that really want to improve their business,” Aridi said. “For entrepreneurs, if they have an idea, we sit with them, we scope it, we shape it, we come up with a strategy together and we help them launch it. The idea is to basically create success stories.”


TV remains more popular option among Saudis for watching the World Cup

TV remains more popular option among Saudis for watching the World Cup
Updated 06 October 2022

TV remains more popular option among Saudis for watching the World Cup

TV remains more popular option among Saudis for watching the World Cup
  • Research by advertising company Digital Turbine found that despite the many other options, 58 percent of people in the Kingdom plan to watch at least some games on television
  • However, 86 percent said they will use more than one device to follow the World Cup action, with 55 percent intending to use their smartphones at least part of the time

DUBAI: With just over six weeks until the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar, football fans around the world are eagerly looking forward to the start of the showpiece tournament.

The fact that it is taking place in the Middle East for the first time adds another layer of excitement for fans in the region. Meanwhile, those in Saudi Arabia will be keen to see how their national team fares in the group stage against Argentina, Mexico and Poland.

Not so long ago, the only way to watch World Cup games was to tune in to coverage on TV but these days there are several options, including mobile phones and tablets.

Mobile advertising company Digital Turbine carried out research to discover the preferences and plans of viewers in the Kingdom for watching the World Cup, and football in general, along with the ways in which brands interact with the audience.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said they watch football coverage at least once a week, indicating that the sport is one of the most popular in the Kingdom.

Given the range of options available for viewing, 86 percent of respondents said they plan to use more than one device to follow the World Cup, with 58 percent saying they will watch at least some of it on TV and 55 percent using their smartphones at least part of the time.

It is perhaps no surprise that 57 percent of people said they tend to spend more time using sports apps during the World Cup and similar big tournaments, often while watching games.

During matches, 24 percent of those surveyed said they intend to browse sports news apps; 23 percent will be active on social media apps; 16 percent will use mobile sports game apps; and 16 percent will be chatting on messaging apps.

It is not only fans who are interested in major sporting events such as the World Cup; they also attract the attention, and marketing budgets, of brands looking to reach as wide an audience as possible. The global advertising spend on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, for example, reached $2.4 billion, with brands expected to spend $200 million on an official sponsorship package, according to research from media company Zenith.

According to Digital Turbine’s research, most Saudis have a positive attitude toward adverting during the World Cup. Eighty percent said they would consider purchasing a product they see in an advert that airs during the tournament, with 36 percent indicating that they would do so within two-to-three days of seeing it. Meanwhile, 66 percent said they would be likely to go online to follow up on an advert shown during the World Cup and might even watch it again.

While the research suggests that World Cup audiences are generally open to adverts during the tournament, they do have certain expectations and preferences for the type of commercials. For example, 59 percent of respondents said they would prefer the adverts to be funny, while 40 percent said it is more important for them to be emotional or heartwarming.


Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service
Updated 05 October 2022

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service
  • Parent company Meta said that the platform, which was designed to be its response to Substack, will close early in 2023
  • It gave independent creators the chance to publish directly to their audience and get paid for their work through subscriptions

LONDON: Facebook has announced it is shutting down its Bulletin newsletter service as it seeks to shift resources to other projects.

Described by Facebook’s parent company Meta as “a project that is directly for journalists and individual writers,” the service aimed to offer new ways for writers and readers to connect.

“Bulletin has allowed us to learn about the relationship between creators and their audiences and how to better support them in building their community on Facebook,” the company said on Tuesday.

“While this off-platform product itself is ending, we remain committed to supporting these and other creators’ success and growth on our platform.”

Bulletin was launched in June 2021 as Meta’s response to Substack, a popular newsletter platform on which independent writers, podcasters and other creators can publish directly to their audiences and get paid for their work through subscriptions.

Bulletin was launched with a group of well-known users, including Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, public health expert James Hamblin, and Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, in an attempt to build an audience for the platform.

Meta also signed a number of up-and-coming writers and pledged $5 million to support local news reporters, along with providing a host of publishing and subscription tools for creators.

Sources close to the decision said that Meta has contacted the 120 creators that are part of the program to tell them that Bulletin will close early next year. The company will honor all contracts in full, some of which are not due to end until 2024. Creators will also be allowed to keep their subscription revenue and take subscriber lists and content with them when Bulletin is wound down.

Speculation about the possible closure of Bulletin began to circulate early in the summer amid the company’s stalled growth and a fall in revenue.

Last month, some media sources reported that Facebook executives had told staff the company was reorganizing budgets and would be focusing its resources on creator economy projects.


Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content

Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content
Updated 05 October 2022

Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content

Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content
  • Kinzen detects misinformation, disinformaton and hate speech across different languages

LONDON: Audio-streaming service Spotify Technology SA on Wednesday said it had acquired Kinzen, a firm that has helped it identify harmful content on the platform.
The acquisition is part of Spotify’s efforts to deal with harmful content on its service after a backlash earlier this year over “The Joe Rogan Experience,” in which the podcaster was accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
The Dublin-based firm has been working with Spotify since 2020, initially focusing on the integrity of election-related content around the world. Since then, Kinzen’s remit has expanded to include targeting misinformation, disinformaton and hate speech.
“Kinzen offers a combination of tools and expertise to help us better understand the content on our platform and emerging abuse trends,” said Sarah Hoyle, Spotify’s head of trust and safety.
Deal terms were not disclosed.
Earlier this year, Spotify said it would be more transparent in how it determines what is acceptable and unacceptable content. It published its platform rules for the first time in January. In June, it formed a Safety Advisory Council to provide input on harmful content.
Kinzen will provide early warnings about problems in different markets, helping Spotify more effectively moderate content in more languages.


Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation
Updated 05 October 2022

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation
  • Turkey is debating a controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation
  • Critics believe that the law is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday began debating a highly controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation, but which critics denounce as yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression.
The 40-article piece of legislation amends multiple laws governing press, advertising and social media. The most controversial change is an amendment to the press law that would criminalize the spreading of “fake news” with a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Critics, including opposition lawmakers and non-governmental organizations, say the law is too vague and could potentially be abused by the government to further crack down on independent journalism, especially media that has developed on the Internet. The government already controls most major news outlets and has been named among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
Representatives of various Turkish journalists’ associations, wearing black face masks, gathered outside parliament in Ankara, urging legislators not to approve the law, which was submitted to parliament in May.
“As journalists, in line with our responsibility to society, we once again warn both legislators and the public: If this law is implemented in this form, there will be no freedom of press, expression and communication in our country,” said Kemal Aktas, head of the Parliamentary Correspondents’ Association.
Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu claimed in a speech on Tuesday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which faces elections in June, introduced the changes to prevent the dissemination of allegations of corruption against the government.
In the assembly, some opposition legislators held up posters that read: “No to the censorship law!”
“With the government’s proposal, press freedoms and freedom of speech are being eradicated,” said Musavat Dervisoglu, a legislator from the opposition center-right Good Party. “Our citizens are being deprived of their right to information.”
“I am curious, for what reason is our country being dragged into George Orwell’s ‘1984’ dystopia,” he said, in reference to the 1949 novel in which the government controls information.
International media freedom organizations have also called for the dismissal of the bill, saying it puts millions of Internet users at risk of criminal action for online posts the government disagrees with, could become a tool “for harassing journalists and activists” and could lead to self-censorship.
“Disinformation is an important issue and needs to be combated but not at the price of restricting journalists’ rights and the public’s rights of freedom of expression,” the groups, including PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in June.
Article 29 of the bill is an amendment to the Turkish penal code mandating one to three years in prison for spreading information that is “contrary to the truth” about Turkey’s domestic and international security, public order and health for the alleged purpose of causing “public worry, fear and panic.” The sentence can be increased by a half if that crime is committed by an anonymous user or as part of an illegal organization.
Erdogan has argued for a law to combat disinformation, saying fake news and rising “digital fascism” is a national and global security issue.
The proposal, put forth by his ruling Justice and Development Party and its nationalist ally, says fake news and its dissemination, or disinformation, pose a “serious threat” by preventing people from accessing the truth, while also undermining freedom of expression and information by “abusing certain freedoms.”
The proposal also says the Internet allows ill-intentioned users to hide their identities for illegal acts and posts such as slander, hate speech and discrimination, therefore requiring regulation. It says the state has the obligation to protect rights and freedoms, especially for people whose rights were violated online.
Ahmet Ozdemir, a legislator from Erdogan’s party who helped draft the legislation, rejected accusations that the proposed changes amount to censorship.
“No freedom can be without limits,” Ozdemir told parliament. “We tried to protect freedoms as much as possible by taking precautions to prevent these freedoms from harming other people’s freedoms.”


Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent

Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent
Updated 05 October 2022

Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent

Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent
  • The 44-year-old was given two months’ house arrest in August over a protest in July
  • How Marina Ovsyannikova left and where she went are still unclear

Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, accused of spreading fake news after staging a series of lone protests against the war in Ukraine, said on Wednesday she had fled house arrest because she had no case to answer.
“I consider myself completely innocent, and since our state refuses to comply with its own laws, I refuse to comply with the measure of restraint imposed on me as of 30 September 2022 and release myself from it,” she said.
In a video posted on Telegram, she sat on a pink sofa and addressed Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, criticizing President Vladimir Putin over the war.
“Put a tag like this on Putin,” she said, gesturing to what appeared to be an electronic ankle bracelet.
Her lawyer said she was supposed to turn up to a court hearing at 10:00 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT), but that investigators had failed to establish her whereabouts.
Investigators had asked the court to convert her initial house arrest order into jail time if she is found, but the court refused to do so, her lawyer said.
Ovsyannikova grabbed world attention in March by walking out in front of studio cameras during an evening news broadcast on state television with a placard that read “Stop the war” and “They’re lying to you.”
The Kremlin at the time denounced her act of protest as “hooliganism.”
The 44-year-old was given two months’ house arrest in August over a protest in July when she stood on a river embankment opposite the Kremlin and held up a poster calling Putin a murderer and his soldiers fascists.
She faced a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of the charge of spreading fake news about Russia’s armed forces.
Her house arrest was due to last until Oct. 9, but the state-run news outlet Russia Today reported on Saturday that she had fled along with her 11-year-old daughter, and that her whereabouts were unknown. How she left and where she went are still unclear.
Russia passed new laws against discrediting or distributing “deliberately false information” about the armed forces on March 4, eight days after invading Ukraine.