Re: Trust & Arabian Online Services

StartUpArabia recently ran an article by guest blogger Qwaider on Trust and Arab Online Services. The article was not (and maybe not intended to be) an objective study on trust & Arabian online services, but rather a highly subjective post written by a well-known, opinionated blogger. In his article, Qwaider lists the reasons why he does not trust Arabian online services yet.

While some of his points might be valid, i respectfully disagree with most of them. Privacy and security leaks seem to be his biggest issues. However, the fact of the matter is that most Arab internet services do not collect private information about their users anyway. While Qwaider might have had search engines, email providers, and social networking sites on his mind, the fact is that most Arab sites do not require anything “real” besides an email address to log in. Questler, Ikbis, Yamli, G.ho.st, all blog aggergators,  all the Digg-like sites, and pretty much most of the online applications that you can think of fall under that rule. If providing an email address is your issue, then how is this any different than providing your email address to small internet startup anywhere in the world? Do not use the Google/Yahoo/Facebook/MySpace argument of privacy in numbers, but think of any internet startup with a still small number of users. If you can trust that startup not to share your email address, then you should be able to trust Arab startups as well. Personally, i do not trust either. I am a privacy freak. That is why i have disposable “anonymous” email addresses that are POP accessible from my real address.

So my first point is that privacy should not be a blocking factor because most sites do not even require/record any private information.

The author also argues that international companies that pump millions into their online presence offer higher quality and more reliability than those with limited budgets in the Arab world. Although huge funding helps you provide higher quality and reliability, this is not a deterministic behavior. This is as true on the international scene as it is on the local scene. Otherwise most international startups would not have succeeded in the first place –because regardless of their funding, they have less funds than big giants. For example, how did YouTube (as a startup) provide a higher quality video hosting service than Google Video (before their acquisition). Yes, more money can help you provide higher quality products, but this is not a sufficient condition. Additionally, let’s not forget the complex and sophisticated hosting platforms that ensure startups receive a highly reliable hosting platform for a relatively low-cost. Examples include Amazon EC2 and the multitude of VPS and dedicated hosting services that boast three-nines and five-nines uptime & backup. So, you do not need millions of dollars and your own hosting farms to provide a reliable service to your small user set.

Finally, regarding sustainability. You pose the question of “how would you know that the company would be there in a few months or years time”. This question is valid for any internet startup not just Arab ones. Why did people go to Facebook when it first came out instead of just sticking with MySpace ? How do some startups continue to challenge the big name companies ? Regardless of the locale, people would choose startups over big name companies if they felt that they provide a better service. After all, not all startups provide an application with a totally new concept. In fact, many startups provide applications and services that have existed before, but they provide them in a better fashion. This has been the success factor behind places like SalesForce, YouTube, Facebook, Zoho, Zimbra and many others.

I am not saying that all Arab online startups are good, or that all of them are trustworthy. I have previously stated that i believe that unfortunately many of the Arab online startups lack originality in their ideas (which in my opinion is one their main obstacles). However, i simply disagree with mass labeling Arab startups as untrustworthy. As a part-owner of an Arab startup firm with online presence, and having deep connections with a bunch of other Arab online startups, i can tell you that most people take the security and privacy of their clients very seriously, and that some have taken the measures to hide sensitive client information even from themselves. Qwaider, if you were to start an online company, wouldn’t you take these issues into concern ? I bet your answer is yes, and so is the answer of many others.

Finally, let’s not forget that big international companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook have had many privacy complaints. Afterall, Facebook does keep countless personal information about you, your friends, and your likes and dislikes, yet there privacy slate is not clean. Don’t forget that Facebook never deletes anything that you do on their site, and exposes your personal information to third-party applications. So, how can you trust those applications ? Similarly, Google keeps track of your search history, email, documents and many other private information, and there have been many privacy concerns voiced by people. With all of Google’s might and money, there were still some exploits that exposed people’s entire address book to hackers and such. Additionally, Google’s Image Labeler can actually construct a profile of you complete with your age, gender, interests, and even sexual orientation in just a few interactions. Privacy and trust are the big issues these days, but money and fame do not buy you neither privacy nor trust.

  1. Thank you Za3tar, I really appreciate the rebuttal and I don’t completely disagree with the content as much as I think that there are a number of issues all stemming from transparency. Most Arab online business don’t have much transparency and thier records are neither government or private audited. This causes accountability to plummet and user’s trust to vanish.
    I’ve decided to share my thoughts as point that any start-up need to consider and think about to reassure thier customers and users that they’ll be safe and well taken care of. It doesn’t hurt to have certain clause about these matters in the operational policy of the company to maintain high level of professionalism between them and thier customers.

    Thanks again for sharing your view, I learned a lot from it

  2. Thanks Qwaider for your comments and for your post on StartupArabia. It is great to have these discussions about the perceived state of startups in Arabia.

    You’re right, every startup needs to assure their clients regarding their privacy and security, and ultimately work to gain their users’ trust.

    We should continue to have these discussion about startups in Arabia. I highly believe that we are on the footsteps of a tech boom in the middle east, and there are many issues to talk about there. I have been trying to write a longer article about originality in Arab online startups, i’ll try to finish that up soon.

  3. Umm Za3tar nice name by the way I just love Za3tar, and this is my first time being on this interesting blog, I want to salute you for this response article, it shares a lot of points with my comment on startuparabia, in fact I wanted to write a response my self but being a lazy blogger I thought it would be easier to post a comment which turned to be bigger than an article, anyway great opportunity to find your blog and thanks for Qwaider for his great continuous contributions to the blogger space.

  4. Thanks Za3tar for replying to Qwaider’s post, which I will comment on shortly as the Founder of Questler, just a correction here, Questler is an informal learning network and definitely not a blog aggregator! Each Quest in questler is a mini-blog by it self containing several aspects of a learning experience.

  5. Mamod: Thank you for the compliments. Yeah, i read your reply comment to the original article and i do agree with most of your points. I also wanted to write my reply as comment, but found it too big so i moved it to a full-fledged post … plus i have been wanting to write something about this for a while, so i took the opportunity…. anyway, thank you for visiting this blog, and i hope you become a reader 🙂

    Razan: Thanks for stopping by. Sorry for the confusion, i listed Questler along with Yamli, Ikbis, and G.ho.st as examples of Arab online applications that do not require “private information”, and not as an example of blog aggregators. Anyway, thank you for your amazing application, and my best wishes to you and your team for continued success.

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