Device collatralization is a huge threat to privacy

If privacy is fundamental right, should device collatralization be allowed at all / what should be boundary conditions for such lending activity ?

Srikanth, @digitaldutta will you be able to provide some readings to help guide thinking around it?

Hi Apar,

I started noticing this ‘device collatralization’ couple of years back, in suburban city market, often targetting gig workers in periphery of the cities. While speaking to Nilesh, realized a mini industry that has cropped up on customizing Android Mobile Device Management (MDM) - originally designed for enterprise device management, being used for offering collateralized credit for purchase of mobile phones and the strong arm recovery tactics in this case - is simply locking the phone after series of varying nudges using the device itself (changing wallpaper, locking apps, blocking camera, locking data access).

Globally - Google too has realized this and has recently started[1] its own operator tie up loan for purchase of smartphone. While looking I also found some research reports from GSMA Connected Women, UKAid, Dalberg[2] and World Wide Web Foundation[3] approaching this from – Access to Internet – standpoint and how device ownership / access / affordability is key to having internet access. Both the studies do have a India section on state of things, The Web Foundation report combines policy choices and includes credit as one of the option (besides lowering taxes, use od USOF / state subsidy to fund etc)

While the privacy risks in digital lending itself is a broad subject comprising of facial recognition, credit profiling through non-consented data obtained from SMS, data brokers, accessing galleries, location, contacts, call registries(for anyone not having caught up - has wealth of resources), device collatralization takes it a notch higher as it kind of gives a scary amount of control to lender. The locking for instance can even lead to loss of livelihood and this issue transcends from being privacy issue to a much broader digital rights issue.

I am sure - you very well remember the FreeBasics argument during SaveTheInternet on access / affordability and how it was used. I think there is a need to think on improving access(right from device ownership) without compromising on right to privacy / net neutrality / digital rights. A lot of thinking needs to happen on how to balance the goals of increasing access (to smartphone and hence Internet) and maintaining privacy if credit is one of the tools for increasing device ownership.

This can be longer project and probably needs lot more time and resources to solidify thought process on the complex issue and answer the question on allowing device collatralization (or an outright ban - just like say organ trading / trafficking) / having meaninful boundary conditions to balance the complexities.

Advocacy to governments, Interaction with industries - Tech - Can there be respectful tech implementations of device locking? / Financial Services - Guiding principles and safegaurding of digital rights of collatralized device buyer are some things on top of my mind.