The role of privacy frameworks in building trust for digital identity services

Understanding end-user attitudes, in Sub-Saharan Africa, towards mobile services linked to a user’s digital identity

With an estimated 1 billion people worldwide who lack an official proof of identity, mainly underserved populations located across Africa and Asia, the risk of exclusion from increasingly digital economies remains high as the ability to digitally prove one’s identity is typically core to most online transactions. In addition to being able to prove one’s identity digitally, successful digital economies also require customers to have trust in the digital ecosystem, despite the fact that many countries around the world lack comprehensive legal privacy and data frameworks.

With this in mind, the GSMA recently conducted end-user research in Sub-Saharan Africa to explore attitudes around privacy and trust both in the presence and absence of comprehensive data protection frameworks, as well as consumers’ willingness to access digital services linked to their identity details.

The research interviewed end-users in four Sub-Saharan Africa countries – two with comprehensive legal frameworks (Ghana and Zambia) and two without (Mozambique and Rwanda). The research focused on mobile users’ attitudes and perceptions in relation to four themes:

  1. Awareness and perceptions of laws (and legal redress)
  2. Attitudes towards privacy
  3. Openness to data sharing for accessing identity-linked digital/mobile services
  4. Overall trust in digital ecosystems

Interestingly the research showed that many consumers could not correctly identify whether or not data protection and privacy laws existed in their country.  The research also highlighted that vulnerable consumers, those in rural environments with lower levels of education and more basic handsets, tended to be less aware of the risks associated with sharing data. In fact, 94% of those surveyed in Mozambique and Rwanda are willing to share personal identifiable information, such as their address, versus 78% of those in Ghana and Zambia.

Overall consumers were clear that they preferred to have control and choice, with the ability to:

  • Withhold information at times
  • Preserve their dignity and reputation
  • Keep certain information (such as financial or health related information) completely secret
  • Maintain their own, or their family’s safety

Women in particular expressed concerns over safety and potential harassment, a lack of digital literacy, and being less convinced that redress for data breaches would be successful. However, previous GSMA research has shown that mobile operators are already addressing some of these issues with women focussed initiatives such as female-friendly distribution models, anonymous top-ups, and educational initiatives.

Overall the research showed that those in markets with legal frameworks around privacy and data protection feel more informed, supported, or confident in managing privacy rather than increasing trust in systems. It also showed that overall the appetite to access identity-linked services is universally high, regardless of the presence of legal frameworks, particularly if a clear benefit to consumers is perceived and the service is provided by a sufficiently trusted entity. Further research in additional countries is needed to substantiate these initial findings, but this research has highlighted the need for MNOs to be transparent with regards to how consumers data is used, clearly articulate how identity-linked services can tangibly benefit consumers, and consider ways to build and retain consumers’ trust.

Download the research 
This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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