US technology firm Google is looking to set up a data hub in Doha, Qatar. Other content providers, particularly those based in the US are looking to bring their data closer to the Middle East to cut back on international carrier costs.
So far insufficient data laws in the region have kept them away. Qatar is making headway with e-commerce and data laws. “Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) have developed data protection regimes, but outside of that there are scatterings of laws in various territories,” says Hinal Patel, partner at law firm DLA Piper.
There are issues with the type of data that can be stored and the potential liabilities. Censorship is also an issue as is privacy, confidentiality and the flow of information.
“Most companies are trying to get closer to the region. Hong Kong was the initial step for many, and then Singapore and now Oman and Doha are looking to be the next landing stations for the Middle East,” says Mohamed Elagazy senior vice-president of international relations, business development and strategy Gulf Bridge International (GBI) a submarine cable operator.
Social networking site Facebook, which has seen rapid growth rates in subscriber numbers in the region, is also looking to store data locally, as is US-based e-commerce website Amazon. Having local data centres reduces latency times when end users access content on the website.
“Google already has a network of dozens of data centres all around the world, which serve the current and future needs of our users across the globe,” says a Google spokesperson who refused to comment on the company’s plans in the region due to “security and competitive concerns”.