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A philanthropic spirit encompassed with an entrepreneurial mind, I am passionate about technology and the things technology can help people to achieve.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Looking into the #DataMustFall Campaign: Will Consumers Win?

In the early morning I opened my Facebook to see if there is anything fresh going and my sleepy eyes were attracted to a headline on 702 page screaming “are you for or against #datamustfall campaign?” I zoomed into the comments section and all I could see were disgruntled consumers. It was clear that many were in a vicious circle moving between networks like a dog chasing its own tail. The disgruntlement has been targeted at the mobile network companies but as I began to digest the whole situation I realized there was a lot of ignorance at play. In this blog post I am going to highlight some of the things consumers are not aware of showing that it’s not only the networks who are responsible but also the consumers have acted against their self-interests too.

It’s a Catch22 Situation for Consumers

Consumers want cheap data and cite that it is too expensive. But unbeknown to consumers data can be cheap and remain expensive. I know that sounds like a messed up oxymoron but let me explain. The mobile service providers can charge in monetary terms or in usage terms. If they are put under immense pressure, they will likely cut the price and raise the usage. Here is an example:

Sipho pays R500 for 2GB of data from Vodacom translating to R250 per GB. For this data Sipho is able to use internet (facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat etc) for the whole month. With enough complaints via #datamustfall Vodacom agrees to reduce the price of data by 50% to R250 for the 2GB. As expected, Sipho is very ecstatic about this price reduction and looks forward to saving R250. But halfway through the month he realizes that his 2GB is finished. Sipho now has to spend the saved R250 to finish the month. What happened is that Vodacom reduced the price (what Sipho pays) and at the same time increased the data taken for connecting. For example where Sipho previously used 1MB to open Twitter, Vodacom sets that usage 2MB, so the data rate has effectively double. The difference is the same, Sipho is not bettered because the mobile service provider holds all the aces. This is a catch22 situation which consumers can find themselves in.

Image Illustration by Runyamhere

The Consumer is Blameworthy

This might shock many consumers but it’s true, the consumers have put themselves in harm’s way by the choices they make. Of course many will say they were ignorant of the obtaining situation but as they say “ignorance is no defence at law”. The majority of consumers now use Android phones to connect. This was a choice they made without coercion by any network operator. Android is software found on Samsung, Sony, HTC, Huawei, some BlackBerry models and many other models. Android is owned by Google and an open source software which anyone can use. Google is in the business of selling information and that through targeted adverts, they provide mapping information, traffic data et al. To achieve this feat of getting real-time data, they look at all the phones using Android and ask the phones for information, so Android phones are constantly being tracked or sending information to Google servers on their location.

Google probably knows where you work, where you stay, how long you stayed there, how you get to work, what time you get to work, where you do shopping during month end, which websites you visit, which music you enjoy listening to, the people you call the most, the kind of things you are searching, possibly your state of health too. For your phone to communicate this information it takes data usage especially location tracking. It is likely that when you are using the internet that is when information will also be relayed at higher frequency to Google servers. But we also know that if you leave an Android phone idle you will find data depleted even though no one was using it. So the Android situation is where consumers traded saving for fancy operating system, they made decision that harm their self-interest. Many Android users switch off data when phone is idle to prevent this data loss. Of course we are at a point where the alternative to Android is iOS of Apple. It comes with its own evils which doesn’t make it any better. The mobile OS market was healthy when it was Nokia, Bada, BlackBerry, Microsoft and others. Now it is a two horse race, consumers are like United States voters now, having to choose the lesser of the two evil (Trump vs Clinton). Who will consumers blame for their wrong choices?


I do not see a way out for consumers, as applications like WhatsApp chew into the mobile networks’ voice revenue, they will look to recover from somewhere and data is increasingly the choice. MTN did try to have government look at the WhatsApp calling situation and consumers pushed back in anger. WhatsApp used to be cheap on data charges, 20MB was enough to send plain texts without downloads or uploads of media files. It is no longer the same. So as I read the fury towards mobile networks, I wonder what other choices humans are going to make against their own self-interests. Facebook is coming with its carrot of free basics, its founder was recently in Africa and showed keen interest in mobile money, are we about to say goodbye to the banking sector as we know it? One thing is certain, out of ignorance the consumers will find themselves in a corner being enslaved by big corporations. For now I will hold onto my BlackBerries, at least I know if I go to sleep it also goes to sleep and it will protect my data against fishing data hungry corporates. The consumers participating in #datamustfall must also take time to engage in #ignorancemustfall so they do not harm themselves in other choices they will make like being gluttonous has led to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) that is a topic for another day.

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