Google business flourishing amid Arab Spring: Google's regional head

Adel Al-Laqani , Monday 30 Jan 2012

Google's head of business in emerging markets tells Ahram Online about the conglomerate's views on political developments in the Arab world and their repercussions on the company's business future

Mohamed Gawdat, Google's head of emerging markets and businesses in Southern, Central and East Europe, Middle East and Africa

Egypt will have to tap into the creative potential stored in the country's vast youth population to capitalise on the value added that internet based activity has to offer to economic growth, Mohamed Gawdat, Google's head of emerging markets and businesses in Southern, Central and East Europe, Middle East and Africa explains.

Ahram Online: Is the turbulence in countries undergoing the Arab Spring affecting your investments negatively?

Mohamed Gawdat: If we look at the rate of growth of Google's investments in Arab countries, we find that it doubled in 2011. For Google, the region is one of its top five most important areas for growth. And there is lots of potential in the area. For instance, videos uploaded on the internet for the three months following 25 January increased by 50 per cent.

A mistake we made is delaying the aggregation of information in the Arab world, and that was because of the complexity of the Arabic language. But following the January 25 Revolution, Google has increased its applications available in Arabic.

The company's strategy for the Middle East is to augment freedom of speech in the region, as it has been deprived of it for so long.  

AO: How does the use of internet technology differ between developing and developed countries?

MG: The patterns of internet use are quite similar across the world, with some differences rising from regional needs. For instance, the Arab region has become one of the top users of Google News applications after the 25 January 2011. In contrast, usage of e-commerce applications is significantly lower than in other parts of the world.

Developing countries have denser rates of usage of any given technology once it spreads in the market. For example, the rate of viewing YouTube through mobiles in Saudi Arabia is the one of the highest in the world.

AO: Some of the content on YouTube is very shocking to Middle Easterners, standing in contradiction to Middle East culture and values. How does Google deal with that?

MG: YouTube provides a service that is very special. It allows millions to share and discuss content, which is something that was unimaginable in the past. But this service also allowed us to see our faults through uncovering many of the society's secrets that would otherwise be hidden. Naturally, these secrets could be very shocking to some, but it the only way for change and correction to take place.

I believe that one of the reasons behind the uprising in Egypt on 25 January 2011 is that YouTube allowed for the spread of videos showing incidents of torture in police stations. Sometimes shocking content makes us more capable of knowing the reality of issues. There is always a price that has to be paid to know the truth about ourselves and become better.

AO: How could the internet industry help push the Egyptian economy?

MG: Egypt could play a large role in the development of Arabic language applications through utilising the large body of creative youth available. This was shown in one initiative called "Ebdaa" or "Start" sponsored by Google where we received more than 4,000 new business ideas. If only 10 of them would be successful, that would be a great benefit to the economy.  

AO: Google unveiled a voice search applications through mobile phones. When can we find it on the personal computer?

MG: This service is already available for the desktop, but not in Arabic language. Along with the relative difficulty of the Arabic language, little research work is being done to solve this problem in the Arab world.

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