Why Africa needs strict protections for privacy

Posted on September 8, 2014 05:32 pm

If one owns a mobile money account in Africa, one can expect to receive a call or text message from agents offering products ranging from cheap loans to club memberships. Often these calls are a nuisance and at times they are downright annoying. But for now there is little African consumers can do about it. A new study conducted across East African region showed personal financial data is easily bought, it seems, and customers have no say in how their personal information is distributed and to whom. This is not how it should be. Few organisations have ever proposed legislation to protect personal data.The government should be able to provide protection of data, including personal or private data and in this regard, African countries should be following in the footsteps of other developed nations which have enacted strict laws on personal data protection. Most African countries do not at present have specific regulations that protect the privacy of their citizens. Privacy in Africa, to a certain extent, is protected by the law, but such protection is scattered across several pieces of legislation according to a legal expert whom I shared a chinwag recently. There have been calls for African Union members to harmonise such laws so that they make sense to the public but little has been done. If properly implemented, such laws can aid the development of the financial services industry, because customers will have greater security and an assurance that their personal information will not be traded without their consent.However in writing the law, African governments must not go overboard and handcuff the development of the financial services industry. It must educate Africans on their rights to privacy while allowing the industry to continue growing.

Striking this balance will not be easy but it is vitally important. Nevertheless, one question that has struck the minds of millions of mobile money users remains the same. How private is mobile money users data in the ever growing world of mobility? The easy solution to a majority of threats would be to simply tweak their settings to accommodate the change and protect your information.The ability to ‘untag’ themselves from text messages or control third party applications is one way Mobile Network Operators have improved their privacy settings. Mobile money users have plenty of options to enhance privacy, yet for many users such settings are unfamiliar, which in turn opens holes for potential exploitation by unwanted persons. Aside from the worst case scenario of exploitation, the lack of awareness and reaction towards changing one’s settings has seen thousands of incidents. With over 50 million users, Mobile Money users in Africa remains a prime option for businesses to associate themselves with to reach a large and far-reaching consumer base. but with the growing realisation of the need for privacy, many rogue institutions have begun to not only peer into the rift between their regulations and privacy issues but have failed to bridge and harmonise the unstable association. At the same time, there is
another need to hold mobile network operators accountable for their
invasive actions and ensure transparent communication between users.

Contador Harrison