x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Facebook 'likes' the Middle East

One in six Facebook users is in the Middle East and the social network has plans to boost its operations in the region.

One in six Facebook users is in the Middle East and the social network has plans to boost its operations in the region, according to Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of the site's chief executive and founder.

Ms Zuckerberg, the official Facebook spokeswoman and director of market development, gave yesterday's keynote address at the Global Leaders Summit at GITEX Technology Week in Dubai.

"Fifteen per cent of the Facebook user base is in the Middle East, so this is a very large and growing population for us," she said. "Approximately two million people in the UAE are on Facebook, which is roughly 40 per cent of the population here.

"This is a substantial amount of our user base, so there are plans in place for us to progress more heavily in the region.".

Ms Zuckerberg declined to specify how much revenue Facebook makes in the region, but she did say the site had advantages for businesses looking to target those living locally. "Business is doing quite well right now. Advertising makes up the bulk of our revenue," she said.

"Even if you are a florist in Dubai, you can target to people who are engaged to be married within a certain region."

She offered tips for those businesses wanting to embrace marketing through Facebook.

These included creating a customised Facebook page and clearly setting out "the rules of engagement" with consumers.

More than 500 million people use Facebook, with 50 per cent logging on every day and 70 per cent living outside the US, Ms Zuckerberg said. "If Facebook was a country, we'd be the third largest country in the world," she added.

However Facebook has increasingly been subject to concerns over privacy and how the site stores and uses the data that its users voluntarily upload.

"There would be no way that we would violate the trust of our users," she said. "We have a strict policy of not sharing information … We're definitely not in any way passing information to governments."

However, an exception to this is when Facebook is required to supply information in criminal cases, to aid police.

Ms Zuckerberg said 200 million were using Facebook on their mobile phones. "Mobile is going to become increasingly important for us in countries like India and parts of Africa," she said.

Facebook is the fifth most popular website in Saudi Arabia, according to the internet data provider Alexa.com. This places it ahead of local rivals such as the social networking site Maktoob, which was acquired by Yahoo last year and later rebranded.