'Switch off the net and you'll have big regrets'
Google's Middle East supremo has slammed hardline internet censorship by the likes of Egypt and Syria after they imposed tough new web clamps to try and stem recent dissent.
Speaking to uae newspaper on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai yesterday, Ari Kesisoglu, the web giant's managing director for the Middle East and Africa, said the world's leading internet search engine was against the actions of those trouble-hit countries which have tried to shut down online access following major demonstrations.
Last week the Syrian government closed much of the country's internet network - sparking demonstration marches. Egypt also moved to quell online dissent during its revolution last year.
Kesisoglu said: "Censorship is bad. It's bad for countries, it's bad for economies."
The Dubai-based Google exec added: "Our products are open - we stand for freedom of expression. We train governments on the benefits of freedom of expression and we share what we know from the rest of the world on how economies can benefit from an even stronger online economy."
Asked whether Google had spoken with troubled governments who have tried to shut off web access, Kesisoglu said: "Speaking might take many forms - we typically try to understand what the governments have in their minds and share what we know is going on around the world and how other countries are benefiting."
Asked whether Google had directly spoken with the Syrian government, Kesisoglu said: "I don't want to speculate. I haven't, but I don't know if anyone in my team has."
Agreeing that the internet had proved vital in the Middle East over the past few years, he said: "Freedom of information helps economies. Freedom leads to more cases of innovation."
Up until 2010, Google itself adhered to Chinese internet censorship policies - for which the firm was heavily criticised. British newspaper The Guardian yesterday reported that Google is to alert users of its Gmail service if it believes they are the target of hacking.
Kesisoglu was speaking at the launch of a Google partnership with Arab media firm AWI. They hope to boost online advertising for smaller businesses.