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The BlackBerry veil: mobile use and privacy practices by young female Saudis

Sunila Lobo (Seeing Stone Ltd, Reading, UK)
Silvia Elaluf-Calderwood (London School of Economics, London, UK)

Journal of Islamic Marketing

ISSN: 1759-0833

Article publication date: 22 June 2012




Qualitative and quantitative research on mobile phone use by youth worldwide has been a recurrent theme for social scientists since the early 1990s in the USA, Europe and some parts of Asia. However, very little work is known about this subject contextualized in the often more conservative Arab societies of the Middle East. The purpose of this paper is to provide a foundation for discourse in this area through the study of mobile phone use patterns of a highly educated group of young Saudi women vis-à-vis privacy.


A mixed interpretative approach was used with a quantitative survey initially conducted to gain a broad idea about the social practices around mobile use, followed by the use of a qualitative method (focus groups), aimed to focus the discussion on the concept of privacy and how the participants negotiate their use of mobile services in light of this.


Variable user behaviour was found with regards to privacy, as their own individual view or societal view is driven not only by the capabilities of the technology, but how it is provided, particularly when there is indication of government monitoring of data content. It was also found that there is a duality between individuals ' view of privacy with regard to other individuals and their perception of privacy with regard to their own government.

Research limitations/implications

The sensitive nature of the context (Saudi female participants in case study) makes this research unique but had its own challenges, which the researchers attempted to address by using an interpretative and qualitative collection of data. Unfortunately, it was not possible to gather similar data from male youth for comparison, due to the completely segregated nature of this society. Future research will attempt to address this.

Practical implications

This research provides information that could be used by mobile phone manufacturers, marketers, content and application providers and telecommunication companies in the process of designing, marketing and providing relevant products and services for this increasingly important population segment. Especially in light of the fact that they share some similarities with youth around the world in their attachment to their mobile phones, but the way it is used to negotiate their various work, home and social domains vis-à-vis privacy, is unique.


The paper presents key findings on an under-researched group of Saudi youth; its practices and motivations for mobile use, the particular domain of privacy and how this is negotiated in an Islamic social and cultural context. It also shows there are at least two distinct levels of privacy, and one has a greater influence than the other, on how Saudi Arabian women negotiate their lives in various domains within their society. In fact, the evidence would lead us to believe that one of these privacy levels (individual-government) has almost no influence on these women ' s consumption of mobile technology. These young women place importance on their individual-individual privacy space and are negotiating this privacy boundary among their peers, thereby defining in use, their own particular notion of privacy.



Lobo, S. and Elaluf-Calderwood, S. (2012), "The BlackBerry veil: mobile use and privacy practices by young female Saudis", Journal of Islamic Marketing, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 190-206.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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