The truth about business growth and internet censorship
Though rather frustrating and arguably unethical, internet censorship isn’t particularly hurtful for businesses here in the UAE says Eva Fernandes
October 31, 2011 2:41 by Eva Fernandes
This weekend Kipp came across an interesting and rather pertinent blog post featured on TIME.com. The post by journalist Michael Schuman posed a question about the extent to which the internet censorship in China is negatively affecting the country’s economic health.
Given that we, here in the UAE, operate under similar forms of internet censorship, Kipp thought his article may prove to be an interesting case study.
Schuman’s first objection to internet censorship is that the extra layer of interference from the government slows down the speed of the internet. Albeit a second or two difference, Schuman argues that this adds up: “So while businessmen in all of China’s major economic competitors require a mere micro-second to open a web page, here in China everyone is stuck waiting around for several seconds – or depending on the page, perhaps as much as a minute.” A minute wasted by a billion people? You do the math to figure out how many billion minutes of productivity are being whiled away while the government plays Big Brother.
What with all of the waiting around, people are sure to get a little bored. Which is why Schuman makes his second conclusion: “Certain searches are impossible, emails are monitored, many web pages simply won’t open, and others open so slowly (like this blog) that only the most patient or determined will endure the wait.” The others, we are left to imagine, get so frustrated by the seconds delay that, even though we are all well into an internet age, they chose to shun a life of relevance and stick to letter writing.
Of course on a business level, Schuman argues that by inhibiting a free flow of information, China is restricting its businessmen, scientists and students exposure to the current trends. And so when it comes to developing ‘homegrown innovative industries that can compete on a global scale’ of course China is at a disadvantage due to the rather stringent internet censorship rules in place. Seriously?
In theory, Schuman makes perfect sense: a lag in internet speed can surely affect the productivity of a business. And sure, limited exposure to current affairs and trends, does indeed limit a business’ ability to compete on a global level.
But let us consider this argument from a less US-centric approach and more of a UAE-centric point of view.
Here in the UAE, the government does have arguably severe and restrictions on internet usage. Everyone knows issues to do with that troublesome “invisible” Middle Eastern neighbour are off limits, as are, of recent, potentially contentious political blogs. And of course, most of us in the UAE has experienced a time when a completely innocent online search returned a massive “Site Blocked” sign instead of search results about an article on bread.
Yet, regardless of all of the restrictions, the UAE remains the number one business hub in the Middle East. Despite the economic crash, the UAE remains first entry choice for a number of international companies hoping to expand into the Middle East. Why? Because this really is the region’s business hub. For all its internet censorship and governance, the fact remains that a massive number of tertiary industries effectively and productively operate of their offices in the UAE.
Here is the point, internet censorship, can hardly ever be painted as a black and white issue: it is a complex issue with several loop holes and alternatives. If the leadership, in this case China’s government, wants to make the country business friendly for companies, then it will make the necessary arrangements to do that. Or it could also choose to keep the internet close to its chest and the local companies will always find a way around this issue to create an environment where they can flourish. What about you, Kipper, which which side of the fence do you sit?