United Arab Emirates (UAE), just like most regions of the world, has considerably adopted e-commerce in facilitating most of its business transactions (OpenNet Initiative, 2009b). However, various issues surround the formulation, adoption, and implementation of e-commerce in the region. More so, these issues are characterized by the cultural and political influences of Islam on the region (Abhijit and Kuilboer, 2002). This paper explains the theoretical perspectives of three problems related to e-commerce in the UAE (filtering the internet, penetration policies, and the role of gender). Basic theoretical perspectives about the three factors will be assessed to evaluate how they relate to the sub-topic and e-commerce in the UAE.
Filtering the Internet
E-commerce mainly relies on the internet to facilitate transactions. This is the same framework that guides the functioning and adoption of e-commerce in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Internet filtering is not a new concept in today’s world. It has been adopted in most communist nations such as China (Zittrain and Palfrey, 2008). The main justification for filtering the internet, borders on political and social reasons. For instance, China has been known to practice internet filtering for political reasons. The regime is against exposing media content that questions the activities or superiority of the government because they want to maintain political stability and suppress any attempts to challenge the government (Siow, 2008). Cultural reasons have also been crucial in implementing internet filtration. This has especially been common for Islamic states or regimes that strictly follow Islamic doctrines. There has been a common perception, the world over, that the internet is deregulated and there are numerous contents (online) that could challenge family or cultural values. More so, this view has been held by Islamic regimes which believe that the internet is too “westernized” and may affect the traditional beliefs, practices, and values of the Islamic community. This is the main reason UAE has regulated the internet by filtering its contents. Elements such as pornography and extreme “western” ideals have therefore been censored through state controls because the state owns most internet service, providers. For example, the government owns Etisalat, which is the country’s main internet service provider (BBC News, 2006).
Filtering the internet is largely seen as a form of government intervention in e-commerce. In the virtual and non-virtual environment, government intervention has been a debatable topic. The Keynesian theory however tries to demystify this debate by proposing that, governments must intervene in the business environment because no meaningful productivity can be achieved without government support. Though the theory mainly advocates for government intervention in times of economic crises, it does not shy away from explaining that, economies are very unstable and the government is the only constant factor that may offer stability to players in the sector. The real business cycle theory however draws an interesting twist to this analysis because it warns of government interference (through fiscal or monetary changes) when businesses are only experiencing cyclic changes like recessions and economic boosts. The theory suggests that governments should only intervene in a structural capacity to ensure the economy performs at its optimum.
The inhibition posed by internet filtration in the UAE is part of a wider body of knowledge enshrined in the concepts of normative and welfare economics. This is because the government tries to protect its values, at the expense of the fundamentals of the economy (OpenNet Initiative, 2009a). Welfare economics goes against the principles of e-commerce because e-commerce is a creation of economic activities or financial transactions in the virtual environment. The significance of the theories (discussed in this paper) in explaining internet filtration in e-commerce is envisaged in the fact that internet filtration is a form of government intervention in business (e-commerce). The same philosophies which the two theories discussed are therefore applicable in the e-commerce platform. For instance, the cautionary approach (which the real business cycle theory proposes) is applicable in approving government attempts to filter internet content (BBC News, 2006).
Internet penetration in the UAE is said to be the highest in the Middle East. Current statistics also show that internet penetration (in the region) is growing by the year (Low Tax GlobalTax and Business Portal, 2011). This growth in internet usage is however subject to internet penetration policies in the Gulf States, which are centered on censoring materials that teach against the traditional, moral, or ethical values in the states. For instance, the penetration policies in the UAE have been aimed at deterring the increase in criminal offenses by blocking sites that teach people how to commit unlawful offenses; preventing the operations of websites that aim to steal personal information or security features from users; and preventing visits to sites that encourage immoral values such as pornography, gambling, use of illegal drugs and the likes (Gulf News, 2009).
The penetration policy in the UAE is subject to the use and gratification theory which has been consistently used to understand mass communication (Chen, 2007, p. 37). The theory puts more emphasis on information users and communication tools as opposed to the developers of the message. In detail, the theory proposes that users normally decipher information and come up with ideas on how information integrates with their lives (as opposed to what the information could do to their lives). So far, most of the penetration policies in the UAE are centered on the latter approach because they are aimed at censoring information to mitigate the influence of the internet on the population. The uses gratification theory however seeks to downplay this aim by explaining that, people are often inclined to choose different pieces of information from mainstream media for personal gratification. This theory holds the view that people control the media and not the other way round where the media controls the people. This theory, therefore, implies that the internet would compete with other sources of media (such as television or radio) to offer gratification to users (Chen, 2007, p. 37).
The use and gratification theory is often complemented by the media dependency theory because both theories focus on the power of the audience as opposed to the power of the media in facilitating growth (or e-commerce in the context of this study). However, the two theories are different in the sense that, the media dependency theory focuses more on the goals of the audience, but the use and gratification theory focuses on the audience’s needs (Chen, 2007, p. 37). The media dependency theory explains that people are more likely to depend on a given media source because of the way the media meets their needs. Many observers have drawn a strong relationship between media content, the characteristics of the society, and the characteristics of the audience as the main determinants of the dependency concept because a hybrid concept of the three factors determine the appropriateness of the media source on the society.
The importance of this analysis in this study stems from the increased emphasis on regulation in the internet world (but more specifically in e-commerce). The findings of these theories are important pieces of information to consider when formulating penetration policies because they define the most important aspects of the same concept. More so, they expose the main motivations behind the use of the internet for e-commerce in the UAE, and therefore, they provide a guided approach to the implementation of policies behind internet penetration in the UAE.
Role of Gender
Men and women have always adopted different strategies in the way they do business. These differences are widespread because they center on risk-taking, adaptability, and attitudes regarding new business paradigms (MacGregor, 2009). For instance, men are known to be less risk-averse as compared to women. Also, men are traditionally known to be more flexible in formulating or implementing business decisions as compared to their female counterparts. These differences have not been any different in the adoption of information technology. Women have been traditionally known to have a lower level of participation in information technology engagement as opposed to their male counterparts. Many studies have focused on the challenges women face in the adoption of information technology, but few have shown consistency in their reasons for the above observation (Humaira, 2008). Nonetheless, many researchers have attributed the low participation of women in information technology adoption because of the “glass ceiling effect”. Numerous reasons have been identified to cause the “glass ceiling” effect, but some of the most common reasons include educational interests, the roles of different genders in society, and gender discrimination (MacGregor, 2009).
The UAE is no stranger to these factors because, before the 60s, women’s roles in society were greatly limited to the household environment. There were very few economic and political opportunities for women, not only in the UAE but in the wider Middle East. This observation is defined by the gender role theory which explains that boys and girls (or men and women) assumed roles that were culturally assigned to them. Women were traditionally homemakers and men used to undertake economic activities to provide for the family. Men’s roles were mainly supported by their physical features because they were deemed to be stronger (MacGregor, 2009, p. 2). Therefore, they undertook many social and economic activities. Women were however perceived to be the weaker sex (as compared to their male counterparts) and because they bore children, they were assigned less economic activities. The gender roles theory is complemented by the social role theory which advances the same philosophies. The social role theory explains that men and women were assigned different roles, based on the social construct. The minimal economic responsibilities assigned to women (in the past) were therefore attributed to the social construct of the time. Men were traditionally more economically empowered as compared to their female counterparts. This situation prevailed for many years. However, with the discovery of oil, many economic opportunities for women came up. Now, the UAE is a leader in the Arab world for the advancement of women’s rights because women hold rights to entitlement, education, legal representation (and similar rights). These dynamics have affected the adoption of e-commerce in the UAE because the adoption of e-commerce in the UAE has taken the female dynamic which is often evident in most western states or countries where women’s participation in e-commerce is common (MacGregor, 2009, p. 2).
Many researchers often explain that women have entered the e-commerce field with very limited skills and experiences, but their performance has not been any different from their highly skilled or educated male and female counterparts. Overall, there has also been a consensus among many researchers that, women tend to be more concerned about the ease of doing business in e-commerce as opposed to the use of e-commerce in facilitating business transactions (MacGregor, 2009, p. 2). The latter has been a strong concern for most male internet users. However, in some regions, it is assumed that the above fact may vary because certain regions of the world, such as the US, report minimal differences in the productivity of male and female users in e-commerce. The same studies also showed that women are more likely to form online communities better than their male counterparts, and in the same regard; they found it easy to establish relationships in the online communication platform with other people they believed shared the same interests. These observations led many researchers to believe that, women were more inclined to form social relationships in the e-commerce platform as opposed to assessing how e-commerce could influence or facilitate their ease of doing business.
These gender differences and attitudes regarding e-commerce are central to the scope of this study because they explain how gender differences affect the growth and implementation of e-commerce in the UAE. Moreover, these gender differences significantly enable us to comprehend the impact e-commerce has on the lives of people, and more so, on the economic and social progression of people in the UAE (MacGregor, 2009). For instance, the affirmation that women perceive information technology and e-commerce as social instruments makes them more accessible to various organizations and companies beyond their main borders. This realization exposes the importance of considering gender implications in the adoption or implementation of e-commerce in the UAE because there are differences in perception and attitude about e-commerce across the gender divide.
This paper observes that e-commerce in the UAE is subject to several political and social issues. The formulation of penetration policies is an example of the political influences regarding the adoption of e-commerce in the region. The role of gender and the filtration of the internet are also examples of the social dynamics of the UAE influencing e-commerce in the region. Comprehensively, this paper notes that, though internet filtration is aimed at upholding the moral sanity of the state, it hinders the adoption and growth of e-commerce because it creates a highly regulated and unpredictable environment for undertaking e-commerce. This paper also highlights the use and gratification theory and the media dependency theories as crucial to the development, formulation, and implementation of penetration policies affecting e-commerce in the UAE. These theories identify that a lot of emphasis should be made on evaluating the audience’s needs on e-commerce and the internet in general. This is a shift in paradigm because most penetration policies in the UAE are centered on limiting the influence of the internet on the population. The use and gratification theory and the media dependency theory explain that the audience has more control over the internet than was previously thought. This insight is therefore useful in the formulation and implementation of penetration policies. This paper also highlights the role of gender in the adoption and growth of e-commerce in the UAE because it shows that, men and women have different perceptions and attitudes about e-commerce. It is believed that women are more concerned about the ease that e-commerce offers in facilitating business transactions but men are more concerned about the usefulness of e-commerce in facilitating business transactions. This exposition shows the importance of including gender consideration when evaluating the impact, growth, and development of e-commerce in the UAE.
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