Global Freedom of Expression

Dependent Yet Disenfranchised: The Policy Void That Threatens the Rights of Mobile Users in Arab States

Key Details

  • Region
    Middle East and North Africa
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention

This report was originally published by SMEX and is republished here with permission and thanks.

In the context of growing government control of mobile networks and a lack of transparency by both governments and companies in making these controls visible, this report, “Dependent Yet Disenfranchised: The Policy Void that Threatens the Rights of Mobile Users in Arab States” seeks to document the public disclosure of key policies by all mobile operators in the 22 countries of the Arab region, specifically terms of service and privacy policies. In addition, we aim to assess the extent to which those disclosures address the right to free expression, and to a lesser extent the right to privacy, using a selection of indicators from the RDR/CAI methodology.

Our objective is to provide evidence to inform the efforts of corporate and government policymakers, journalists, activists, and researchers. Most important, we aim to foster increased transparency between mobile operators and their users in order to develop a business culture in which customers’ demands for their rights to privacy and free expression are powerful enough to persuade technology and telecom service providers to: first publish and publicize rights-respecting corporate policies; second, differentiate themselves from competitors based on these policies; and, third, defend mobile users in the region from government and corporate overreach.

No mobile telecom operator in the Arab region, even subsidiaries of multinationals, appears to consider, much less commit to respect, human rights online in the formulation of their terms of service and privacy policies. Many do not even make these core policy documents publicly available.

Of the region’s 66 mobile telecom operators, for instance, only 14 publish terms of service; just 7 publish privacy policies. Among the companies that do publish ToS, some do not publish them in the primary languages of their users. Moreover, there is little consistency among companies in their commitments to notify users of changes in service or to make clear the processes used to enforce their ToS. In fact, while most companies provide information on the types of content and activities they do not allow, it remains unclear which procedures they follow to enforce their rules. This includes providing information on which actions they take against infringing users and accounts such as decisions to suspend or terminate a service; or to restrict access to certain types of content, and how such decisions are made.


Afef Abrougui

Research fellow, SMEX