MENA online spending reaches $7.3 billion

Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government report estimates will 890 million IoT devices will be in use by 2020
Online spending has risen from $2.7 billion to $7.3 billion over the last two years, according to the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government’s (MBRSG) ‘Arab World Online 2017’ report. Photo Illustration: Matt CardyGetty Images
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Thu 26 Oct 2017 08:59 AM

Online spending has risen from $2.7 billion to $7.3 billion over the last two years, according to the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government’s (MBRSG) ‘Arab World Online 2017’ report.

The report found that 40 percent of the more than 20,000 respondents reported conducting online shopping and retail activities at least once a month, with a third (33 percent) using online government services on a monthly basis. When asked about sharing services and open data, 82 percent of respondent thought it important for the government to use open data.

The first-of-its-kind report also assessed societal trends, behaviours and concerns about advanced and emerging technologies in the region, including Artificial Intelligence IAI), autonomous vehicles, drones and robotics, as well as virtual ad augmented reality applications, 3D printing, Blockchain, cryptocurrencies and wearable devices.

“According to our research, there are more than 460 million personal IoT devices in the Arab region used by 173 million internet users today. The number of personal IoT devices will almost double to 890 million by 2020 and will interact with 208 million users in the region,” said Fadi Salem, MBRSG’s Director of Research and Advisory and author of the study.

“This infrastructure of internet-connected things and people, will trigger new digital transformations and enable technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution, such as Artificial Intelligence, to go mainstream in the Arab region. This will require new sets of policy responses.”

The report shows that readiness for new technologies is strong throughout the Middle East. For example, over 70 percent of Internet users noted they would use 3D printing applications if made available at a reasonable cost, and more than half said they’d be willing to use personal robotics, virtual reality and driverless car applications.

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, however, scored the highest levels of uncertainty, with approximately one-third of respondents they weren’t sure if they’d use Blockchain even if it was available to them. Readiness for UAVs and drones is the lowest in the region, compared to other emerging technologies.

The findings reveal that AI applications – such as chatbots – are viewed positively in the region, particularly when used for customer service and commercial purposes. However, many respondents expressed concerns about the privacy, safety, and ethical Implications of AI technology.

“Clearly, artificial Intelligence applications provoke the most concerns among people in the Arab region. In total 59% of internet users in the Arab region are concerned about AI in general or about AI-related applications such as driverless cars, which makes it a priority area for policy responses by governments in the region” Salem added.

Additionally, many people around the region voices concern about various forms of cyber threats.

“The top 5 cyber Arab internet users are cyberterrorism, cybercrimes, cyberbullying, fake news online, and commercial exploitation” Salem added.

On average, 75% internet users in the region said that they have experienced at least one type of cyber threat during the past two years, including viruses, scams, hacking, bullying, harassment, identity theft, data breaches, extortion or ransomware.

Around eight percent of internet users in the region said that they do not take any cybersecurity measure when online, while one out of five does not use any antivirus application, and only 40 percent use Firewall applications when online.

The report recommended that governments prepare policies that keep pace with the speed of technological advancements, such as digital economy skill building, such as coding workshops.

“It is important to highlight that upskilling, education, and research and development, are the top three areas where policy responses are required for this new era of development according to the survey findings,” said MBRSG Dean Professor Raed Awamleh. “Policymaker should take note of the public awareness and appreciation of what priorities should be put in place to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution.”

The report also examined how Arab users consumer online material and services, including messaging and video and voice calling apps. More than 92 percent of respondents said the use the internet for socializing on a monthly basic, while 79 percent said they consume news online on a monthly basis. 

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