A majority of internet users are oblivious to the risk of giving out personal information on the internet. There is a current buzz about Face App, a catchy meme creator dominating social platforms that applies artificial intelligence based filters to change the appearance of uploaded images.
The App shows users how they will look when they age and because it is fun, users do not question what they are getting themselves into.Tech experts say by clicking ‘allow’ on all permissions the app asks for, they do not realise that the app can access photos, send notifications and activate their cameras. And without knowing, users end up giving the App full access to personal images of not just themselves but of their loved ones. This is just but one of the many that are available on the world of internet.
Alice Munyua, Mozilla Policy Advisor in Africa says it is important not to share vital personal data on the internet. This usually happens when one opens an account on applications including facebook and whatssup. Munyua worries that once given out, such platforms or applications can use the data in whatever form they want. “Such apps will ask you questions like; are you married, your religion, age and others, and most people answer everything without realising that they are voluntarily giving away their personal data.
“People also don’t realise that data is an extremely valuable thing right now,” Munyua told The Midweek Sun Monday on the sidelines of the 7th Africa DNS Forum held in Gaborone.
The forum is held under the theme; ‘Building Trust in the African DNS industry for a Thriving Digital Economy.’ She added that data is kept for the longest time and the longer it’s kept the more valuable it becomes, and illustrates that if one goes to their medical doctor, for example, they may divulge personal medical information needed by the doctor for a correct diagnosis.
However, thereafter they may never know where the data is kept and how it would be used in the future. She said that it may then be used for medical research, for example, that patients have not consented to.
“In the event that you have a terminal disease, you might realise that all of a sudden medical aid companies are not willing to cover you because your medical data is out there,” Munyua said.
According to Munyua, whose organisation is a global community of technologists, thinkers and builders working to keep the internet open and accessible, while ensuring safety and security, most African countries don’t take data protection seriously because they think it’s a western problem.
A case in point – in 2014 the African Union came up with an instrument, the Malabo Convention that was to help African countries harmonise data protection, among other issues. This according to Munyua would also help ease economic activity across the region. However, to date out of 55 African countries, only 24 have data protection laws including Botswana. She has observed that African countries are rushing to get their people in the digital economy however they are not willing to do all the necessary work to ensure safety and security for end users.
“The way we go about implementing the digital economy is going to determine whether technology empowers Africans or exploits us. The more we give out our data the more it’s exploited by companies that have got nothing to do with us,” Munyua said.Although Botswana passed the Data Protection Law last year, it has not yet commenced, according to Chief Technology Officer at Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), Tshoganetso Kepaletswe.
Munyua said that in countries like Botswana where the law is in existence, it is important for users to know and understand it, and enforce their rights.