The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology unveiled the key findings of a major new study into the attitudes and behaviors of Internet users in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
The research, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the region, was launched by the Ministry on the sidelines of the third edition of the Qatar ICT Conference and Exhibition ‘QITCOM 2014′ – the largest ICT conference, which is taking place at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) this May 26-28.
Covering 14 Middle East countries, the report explores the attitudes and behaviors of Internet users in MENA towards important ICT-related issues such as cyber safety, online security and data privacy.
The conclusions were compiled using an online survey of 2,793 Internet users in the region; which were then benchmarked against an existing dataset – produced by the World Economic Forum – of 8,432 respondents from 44 other countries across the globe. In undertaking this work, the Ministry worked in partnership with the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. The fieldwork was conducted by two of the world’s leading market research firms; comScore and Toluna.
Speaking at the report launch, Damian Radcliffe, Section Head, Digital Impact & Emerging Technologies at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology – noted, “The research identified many parallels between the regional and global samples. Compared to the global average, MENA Internet users typically have very similar levels of concern towards their email or online accounts being hacked.” “But they are also amongst the most enthusiastic about the positive impact that the Internet is having on their lives, with MENA Internet users leading the way in terms going online to check the news or to make video or audio calls,” he added.
Mapped against the world average, the report also found that MENA respondents were more supportive of the idea that government authorities should block harmful content online that is ‘racist’ or ‘discriminatory’; or potentially damaging to children. Further differences between Internet users in the region and the wider global sample were also found in eCommerce and online banking. MENA Internet users are the least likely to participate in these online activities, despite MENA respondents ranking Banks and Financial Institutions as the online players they trusted the most.
“This apparent contradiction reflects how the Arab world is balancing adoption of ICT with a desire to still do some tasks in traditional ways,” Radcliffe said. “But these high levels of trust are also a great platform to help drive online adoption and safer Internet behaviors,” Radcliffe added.
Commenting on the report, which is part of the Rassed research program, established by the Ministry, Radcliff observed the inconsistency between users claiming to be ‘careful’ online and their practicing safe Internet behaviors.
“50% of the Middle East’s Internet users say that they are ‘very careful’ when using the Internet, however only a few of them ever scan their devices for viruses, or refrain from downloading attachments and documents from people they don’t know,” he said. “This is not unique to the MENA region,” he explained, “as we found similar results across the globe,” he added.
“But it also emphasizes the importance of the work being done by the Ministry and other organizations in Qatar to promote cyber safety. We need to continue to work together to educate and empower Internet users so that their online experiences are safe, as well as useful and enjoyable,” he continued.
“In producing this study, the Rassed team have given us a new level of insight into the attitudes and behaviors of Internet users in the MENA region,” Radcliffe said, “and I encourage anyone interested in understanding the Middle East Internet user to read and make use of our findings,” he added.
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