Categories
Uncategorized

The Twitter Craze

Twitter is the hottest thing on the Internet right now, yet people either do not understand, think it is silly, or are addicted to it. In Oman, Twitter is steadily gaining popularity as more people and companies join it. For those who still do not know what this is, Twitter is a service that lets you send very short messages (140 letters or less) to people who follow you. If you are on Facebook, think of it as a website dedicated to status updates, and instead of being restricted to friends you know, it is public.

The short messages of Twitter can be used in a number of ways. The most commonly understood method is to simply use it as an answer to the question “What are you doing right now?”. Your answer could be anything from “Having my famous cereal for breakfast” to “Running late for work as usual”. These are updates that enable your friends to know what you are doing at any moment.

The second function for Twitter is to use it as a chat platform. Twitter enables its users to reply to each other’s messages instantly using a myriad of devices. If you need a quick answer to a short question, like the location of a restaurant or an advice on something to buy, you can make an update on Twitter and get a short answer from any of your followers quickly.

The third function of Twitter is to use it as a source of real-time news, whether it came from professional industries or normal people. The concept of a “Retweet”, which is the equivalent to a rebroadcast of a twitter update, makes news spread across the whole of Twitter instantly, so if you found a tweet with breaking news, you can retweet it instantly to your friends who are likely to retweet it even further down the chain.

For people like myself who are officially addicted to service (I have made more than 10,000 status updates since I registered two years ago), Twitter has become part of the lifestyle we follow. My followers know about my life more than anybody else does, and I know a lot about the lives of those who I follow in return. I have used many different methods of communication over the years, but I had never before made a connection with so many people on such a personal level like I have on Twitter. It might sound unnatural to those who don’t use the service, but I now feel that I am part of a community which I cannot abandon easily.

I have been told that I no longer have any privacy because people know every single move I make from the minute I wake up until the minute I decide to stop reading my novel in bed and go off to sleep. I have to admit that I am no longer sure about the extent to which I should disclose personal information about myself, and I do not advise anyone to tweet as much as I do, but I believe that the whole world is still trying to understand social media and it will take us a while to establish a common etiquette for using such a service. Until that happens we will have to tweet using common sense to ensure that we do not harm ourselves and those close to us by exposing too much information to the rest of the world.

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.

Categories
Copyright

The Real Victims of Piracy

Even though almost ten years have passed since Oman got its first copyright law, most people still seem to have a strange self-entitlement to everything they find on the internet. The majority of people do not have any feeling of guilt when they illegally download any song, video, or game they did not pay for.

Oman, and many other Arab countries, are in a unique position that makes them detached from primary producers of popular digital content such as the US and Europe – who might not necessarily consider this region as a target for their music or computer programs. It is very difficult for foreign content producers to take legal action against infringers of copyright in Oman and it is impossible for the authorities to regulate illegal downloads on the internet (even though they somehow seem to always have the time and resources to block every single VOIP website they can find).

To the majority of people copyright infringement seems like a victimless crime: musicians and film makers in the US seem to be doing alright, they do not really expect to sell in Oman, of all places, much anyway, and even if these companies did make a loss, they are multinational institutions that can make money through a million other ways.

This makes it very difficult for our region to be taken seriously as a viable market for selling some copyright works. The result of this is that those of us who want to legally buy music in Oman find it very difficult to find any shop that can afford to continue stock up music CDs that nobody buys. Software products rarely ever get an official release in this region and there are no tech support or after sale services for such programs. The gaming industry is totally unregulated in this region and there is never any localization of game content.

The worst problem with piracy is that it makes it very difficult for local musicians, programmers, and game developers to be able to make money from creating local content in this market. Creating a polished work obviously requires money and investment, and you cannot make money from intellectual property works in a place where copyright is not respected. It is no wonder that there are no Omani video games or computer programs (genuine or otherwise) sold in any computer shop in the country.

Oman has had copyright law in place for about a decade now, but it is very difficult to enforce it because of the internet and the fact that content providers will find it very inconvenient to take cross-border legal action. Society itself must start respecting copyright and realize that the biggest loser in all of this is society itself, because if we do not encourage or reward creativity we will continue to only live off works made in other places in the world.

The situation in Oman is not totally hopeless because authorities have realized that the process to create respect for copyright must start from the bottom up, and as a result a special lesson about copyright has been added to the eleventh grade government school syllabus here in Oman in hope it makes students appreciate the importance of copyright and how piracy could be damaging. The college of law at SQU is also expected to start teaching intellectual property as part of the law degree curriculum. That by itself will not instantly make everyone respect copyright, but it is a step in the right direction.

Categories
Data Protection Privacy

Personal Data in the Digital Age

The internet in Oman has developed a great deal in recent years, we now have fast speed internet spreading across the country and we have an extensive reach of high speed wireless internet as well. However, the way the content of this internet is regulated and censored did not see much of a development since the Internet was first introduced in the 90s.

Oman is one of the more liberal and tolerant countries in the Gulf and no major websites such as YouTube, Flickr, or Facebook were ever blocked. The recent report on internet censorship issued by the OpenNet Initiative found that there is no evidence of any political Internet censorship in Oman and the majority of Internet censorship is made on social and cultural grounds, for example, hacking and pornographic websites are usually blocked, but websites that criticize government officials are not. The government usually uses legal methods, such as criminal law to deal with issues of defamation and breach of confidence to hold authors accountable for what they write. However, the government will not block their website.

The aim of the censorship process is to protect society values and help prevent minors from being exposed to pornographic material. The process by which such websites are selected and blocked is arranged by an automation software that is operated by Omantel. This software is expected to use a number search and indexing methods to know which websites to block.

Using the method of censorship to help “protect” society values might have worked in the early days of the Internet when the number of websites was small and manageable, but we now live in an age where the Internet is massively expanding every second due to low cost for hosting websites and the expansion in user-generated content. It is now impossible to be able to block all pornographic websites when there are hundreds new of them being created every single minute.

The result is a failing system that cannot logically protect us from all pornographic websites, instead, the automated nature of censorship leads to overblocking clean websites that have no offending content. There are also a number of specialist users who need access to websites that may include “offending content”, such as nudity, for medical or research purposes – but such users cannot access these websites here due to the fact that they are classified as offending websites.

The regulators should admit the fact that such censorship is not a solution, anybody can do a Google image for porn right now to be entertained with loads of offending materials. The internet is expanding as we speak and there is no way to “block” it at the top yet allow people to use it efficiently as the same time.

If it is society values which we aim to protect, then we should educate parents and families on how to use software protection shields on their own computers to protect their kids from accessing any offending websites or restricting their access to a limited number of websites to visit. Specialist users and students should be able to have the option to have unfiltered internet if they would like to access websites that feature nudity for legitimate purposes.

Categories
Privacy

Omani Spam

Email is one of the most abused methods for sending spam as more than 75% of all emails sent in the world are spam messages. I take all logically reasonable methods to protect my email address from being collected by spambots, but like everyone else on this planet, somehow spam still ends up collecting in my inbox. It is very unlikely for me to be fooled by an email scam and I will never buy something from a company that sends me an unsolicited email, but I still hate the amount of time it takes me to go through my email inbox on daily basis to find real messages in the piles of advertisements I never asked for.

Even though spam filters have developed over the years and a great number of spam messages will be recognized and blocked by most email clients, spammers have always been one step ahead of filter technologies and have developed advanced techniques for making sure that their messages are not detected. That is the reason why the best method for combating spam is by relying on legislation rather than technology.

Many countries around the world have criminalized spam and impose various restrictions on those who attempt to send mass commercial messages to the public, such restrictions include the requirement to enable end users to opt-out of any mailing list, prohibition of hiding the sender’s identity, and the prohibition of the collection of email addresses without the consent of their owners.

Until very recently the use of email marketing was not a mainstream strategy for companies in Oman, but along with the growth of the use of the internet in the country came the awareness of the ease at which products and services can be marketed using simple email messages, and now even companies in Oman participate in the shameful act of spam. I personally received an unsolicited email message advertising an upcoming technology exhibition in Muscat, an email message about a local IT solutions company advertising its services to install Google apps for businesses, and many other countless messages from random Omani online discussion boards. I am sure I never gave my email address to any of these senders and none of these messages instructed me on how to unsubscribe.

I doubt that any of these companies think about the consequences of their bulk messages and I do not think that they consider themselves as spammers, yet even though they ought to know that what they are doing is unacceptable, they are still technically not doing anything illegal as the law in Oman does not prohibit sending an unsolicited commercial message to anyone. This got to change before the use of email in Oman becomes bloated with advertisements and online scams.

Until the law clearly makes this an offense, you can play your role in fighting spam by always using the ‘report spam’ or ‘mark as spam’ button if it is made available by your email provider, this helps in detecting future messages as spam for you and other people. Make sure that you do not ever trust a company that sends you an unsolicited email, and never send advertisements yourself to other people who do not explicitly tell you that they are interested in receiving them!

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.

Categories
Censorship

Internet Censorship

The internet in Oman has developed a great deal in recent years, we now have fast speed internet spreading across the country and we have an extensive reach of high speed wireless internet as well. However, the way the content of this internet is regulated and censored did not see much of a development since the Internet was first introduced in the 90s.

Oman is one of the more liberal and tolerant countries in the Gulf and no major websites such as YouTube, Flickr, or Facebook were ever blocked. The recent report on internet censorship issued by the OpenNet Initiative found that there is no evidence of any political Internet censorship in Oman and the majority of Internet censorship is made on social and cultural grounds, for example, hacking and pornographic websites are usually blocked, but websites that criticize government officials are not. The government usually uses legal methods, such as criminal law to deal with issues of defamation and breach of confidence to hold authors accountable for what they write. However, the government will not block their website.

The aim of the censorship process is to protect society values and help prevent minors from being exposed to pornographic material. The process by which such websites are selected and blocked is arranged by an automation software that is operated by Omantel. This software is expected to use a number search and indexing methods to know which websites to block.

Using the method of censorship to help “protect” society values might have worked in the early days of the Internet when the number of websites was small and manageable, but we now live in an age where the Internet is massively expanding every second due to low cost for hosting websites and the expansion in user-generated content. It is now impossible to be able to block all pornographic websites when there are hundreds new of them being created every single minute.

The result is a failing system that cannot logically protect us from all pornographic websites, instead, the automated nature of censorship leads to overblocking clean websites that have no offending content. There are also a number of specialist users who need access to websites that may include “offending content”, such as nudity, for medical or research purposes – but such users cannot access these websites here due to the fact that they are classified as offending websites.

The regulators should admit the fact that such censorship is not a solution, anybody can do a Google image for porn right now to be entertained with loads of offending materials. The internet is expanding as we speak and there is no way to “block” it at the top yet allow people to use it efficiently as the same time.

If it is society values which we aim to protect, then we should educate parents and families on how to use software protection shields on their own computers to protect their kids from accessing any offending websites or restricting their access to a limited number of websites to visit. Specialist users and students should be able to have the option to have unfiltered internet if they would like to access websites that feature nudity for legitimate purposes.