How many times have you received a promotional SMS from a company you know for a fact you never gave your number to? Perhaps it is a pizza place telling you about their latest special or something more serious like a notification about covid 19 vaccines. These messages have become so common place that we never stop to question where the senders got our numbers. With mobile phone penetration rising every year across Lesotho they are perhaps the most efficient way to reach citizens, but the question remains. How did a company you have not been in contact with have access to your cell phone number? Perhaps you should look no further than your mobile phone operator.
According to a report by the internet freedom project, there are two mobile phone operators working in Lesotho and while sharing users’ information so they can receive promotional texts and pandemic notification may seem harmless the matter gets more insidious when one
realises that perhaps that users did consent to this sharing of information by clicking accept on terms and conditions that they never bothered to read.
While the legal standing has always been “Caveat emptor” which loosely translated from Latin means “Buyer beware”. In essence as a consumer, you are bound by whatever terms and conditions you sign your acceptance to, but can we really say that mobile phone operators in Lesotho are giving their consumers enough access to the said terms and conditions? For example, when subscribing to mobile money services like M-Pesa, users are simply told that the terms and conditions are available on the Vodacom website, but the users is expected to click accept to conditions that are not available for their perusal at the time but can be found on the company website which means users now need additional data and a smartphone to access even though subscribing to a service le M-Pesa can be done from any cell phone.
We often joke about how the cure for the corona virus might be hidden in the terms and conditions, but we would never know because they are such a long and tedious document. One has to wonder if they are intentionally tedious so that no one ever bothers to read them. What are we consenting to when we simply click accept or agree to terms and conditions just so we can access a service, especially when there is no room for negotiation, and one needs to access the service for normal daily functions. To what extent do these terms and conditions give our service providers leeway to use the data they collect for purposes that have no benefit to us as subscribers?
Clause 14 of the Vodacom M-pesa terms and conditions does state that Vodacom Lesotho retains the right to disclose clients’ personal information to amongst others “Government and foreign bodies to aid in the prevention of crime and also for reasonable commercial use associated with the use of their services”. What is reasonable commercial use is not specified and one can only theorize that it is intentionally vague so that it can always be left to the left to the interpretation of the service provider.
While Vodacom Lesotho’s terms as regarding to their provision of user’s data may give cause for concern, they are at least there in print for whoever reads them to see. Econet Lesotho on the other hand’s terms and conditions as per the use of their mobile money service Eco cash and disclosure emanating from such use is silent. The company makes no indication as to how they will respond to governmental or foreign bodies enquiry about user’s information. They further make no indication as to whether they will use the information for “Reasonable commercial purposes” or not. Users therefore accept terms and conditions that are unclear
and vague. Furthermore, both companies have their terms and condition printed in English, despite operating in a country where there are two official languages with Sesotho being the mother tongue of a large percentage of the population. Once again, the terms and conditions may exist but there are notable barriers to their access by users and these barriers do take away from the consumer the power to make informed choices about their digital rights.