x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UAE citizens should learn about online privacy at early age

Young people in the UAE need to think twice about what they choose to share online.

Social media is a powerful tool. It's one of the easiest tools to reach thousands of people in a short period of time with the least amount of effort.

But it comes with enormous risks. Employees can lose their jobs if their company accuses them of harming its reputation; some companies have gone so far as to disallow their employees from using social media at all.

The risks involved in social media make one wonder about online privacy. To what extent should people share their inner thoughts with the world? What consequences should they be prepared to pay? And, in the UAE, are people aware of these dangers?

The total number of Facebook users in the UAE stands at 3,397,760, the majority of these users are young adults aged between 22 and 30. The estimated number of active Twitter users in the UAE stands at 305,056 with estimated 2.5 million tweets a day.

These statistics highlight the incredible popularity of social media here. What people need to realise is that any written thoughts shared on the internet are documented. Experts can retrieve data from many years ago, including from deleted accounts and expired websites. Thoughts shared on social media can be easily accessed by other people. Feelings can change but what you've posted will remain for years to come.

There are hardly any examples of such incidents in the UAE but one should learn from examples elsewhere. One example is of a Connor Riley who had a job offer from Cisco networking company. She tweeted: "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work".

Shortly after that, she received a reply from a Cisco employee, Tim Levad, which read: "Who is the hiring manager? I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work." Her tweet was used against her and she was sacked.

Although we have not seen such incidents here, UAE citizens are still not highly aware of how to balance between social networking sites and their current or future workplace. As a first step, people should not use their work emails to connect to social media. Since Google purchased YouTube, Gmail and YouTube accounts have been connected.

People mostly use Gmail to contact colleagues or use as a contact information on their CV. That can help employers to track down that person's YouTube activities, videos they have watched, channels to which they subscribed and even comments they've written.

A lot of these sites allow users to look up their friends by writing down their emails, and sometimes it is done automatically. You might come up as a suggested user to your supervisor or your manager just because you once emailed him using your personal email account.

To avoid such problems, one way is to use social media under aliases. Some people feel comfortable sharing their identities, such as writers, activists and business owners. They mostly do that to promote their work. But people should avoid taking the risk by using titles or aliases.

Social media is a dangerous tool if not used properly. A campaign is needed to spread awareness among people in the UAE at a young age about the dangers of social media to professional life.

The concept of privacy and professionalism should be taught at an early age so young people know how to use social media properly.

Young people need to think twice about what they choose to share online, and consider the effect they could have on third parties.


Ayesha Al Messabi is a 22-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi. She is currently doing an MA in Public Relations at Zayed University