Helping Consumers Understand Their Digital Data: Initial Experiences from Tanzania

Posted by Rafe Mazer, Financial Sector Specialist, Government & Policy, CGAP

World Consumer Rights Day is March 15. To celebrate, this week we’ll be sharing posts that explore the importance of client protection and initiatives that strengthen responsible practices in providing financial services. Given the tremendous growth of mobile phone-based financial services, it’s fitting that the theme of this year’s day is “fix our phone rights.”

The rapid expansion of mobile financial services in many emerging markets has created new consumer protection issues and challenges. One of these involves consumers’ digital data, and how this data is stored, used, and communicated to the consumer.

The implications of mobile financial services for data privacy are far-reaching and a topic of much recent conversation in the financial inclusion and consumer protection space. At a recent CGAP/Microfinance Opportunities/Citi Foundation roundtable on big data the discussion over privacy of mobile data and informed consent—making sure consumers truly understand and accept product terms before enrollment—proved to be one of the liveliest discussions of the day.

Focusing strictly on the behavioral dimensions of this debate, two important issues to consider are:

  1. How to effectively disclose to consumers in a salient way the complex subject of how their personal data will be used.
  2. Consumers often have a general preference for protection of their data, but this conflicts with the reality that in order to use a product they often must agree to let it track and share their information. So in practice, consumers will often consent to data sharing conditions that do not reflect their preferences because they do not want to be denied access.

Informing base-of-the-pyramid consumers on data privacy issues can be challenging because it requires educating individuals on their “digital footprints,” a topic that is both complex and, for many of these consumers, brand new. CGAP has been exploring this challenge in Tanzania with First Access through field testing of informed consent approaches. First Access is a data analytics firm that works with lenders to use financial and mobile data to predict credit risk for base of the pyramid financial consumers. Our research together is seeking to determine appropriate methods for informing borrowers in Tanzania how their data will—and will not—be used by First Access. Since few people understand that using their mobile phone creates data records, our research began by exploring how Tanzanians conceive of privacy in general, probing on financial, personal, and social information, and how individuals share and protect this information in their family, business, and community.

Read more…