Tuesday, August 24, 2010

If We Have To Register Our SIMs, Then Let’s Benefit From The Effort.

img_1853_sim-card_450x360 I have written criticizing the rationale behind the new SIM registration requirement. However, there isn’t really any groundswell of opposition to it (no #NoSIMRegNigeria hash-tag on Twitter). Unless our history of not doing such things well comes into play, soon enough there are going to be several huge databases lying around the place that would have the names, addresses and biometric information of at least a quarter of our populace. Indeed if the NCC is to be believed, we have already passed the 50% mark in tele-density. My reasoning is if that data has been gathered, and it is our data, then we should derive some positive benefit from it, not just the government.

While I still stand by my recommendations around have the data should be stored and accessed, I believe there are opportunities for the citizenry to be served by that data. This will have to be built upon secure APIs providing controlled access to that data. This also assumes data quality without which no benefits can be achieved whether in security or commerce. Be that as it may, I believe the following benefits can be achieved.

Digital Commerce Personalisation.

Many services collect our phone numbers today in order to contact us for notification. Some of them, like banks already collect all sorts of bio-data already which they use to provide you service. For organisations that don’t need to gather and store this kind of data, they could use the aforementioned APIs on a as-needed basis. Sort of like the way users of InterSwitch’s online payment processor don’t store or even access your card details, instead they go off to InterSwitch’s site to complete the transaction, this data set can be used to provide a similar set of opportunities for other businesses to provide you personalised services without explicitly collecting, storage or even being able to “read” that data. For instance, someone could build a custom cake site where I go to order a birthday cake for my wife. So I don’t forget, I go in and place the order 3 months before her birthday. The only personal data of hers that I provide is her phone number. The baker’s site code goes and fetches her name for the icing of the cake, her birth date to enable the baker know when to prepare the cake. When the cake is ready, the baker provides the number to her courier who uses that to obtain the delivery address. The baker never has this information, only the courier company gets that info as it wasn’t relevant to the baker’s apps use case.

This is clearly a contrived example with all sorts of holes in it. For instance, ideally there should be some way of getting permission before any of the hidden information is revealed to the third parties involved, but since it should be my wife providing this permission, it would ruin the surprise. Furthermore if I am going to be prompted by some mechanism to authorise that some site should go off and get my info, why don’t I just provide it directly? However this is not an attempt to develop robust business rules, but to demonstrate some of the possibilities.


Data Transmission Brevity.

This is related to the first. A widely used tool in Nigeria is SMS. We use it in an amazing variety of ways. One of its limits is you can only put so much information in a text. The capabilities of SMS in initiating financial transactions, doing registrations, etc can be simplified if we exchange a limited set of information by SMS which then authorises back end systems to exchange the needed personal details.


Identity Validation.

As long as we are going to be going through a process of validating our identities (please see my previous post where I expressed doubts about how well this can be done), then having validated it, shouldn’t we be able to use our phone numbers as “certificates of authenticity” on eBay-like sites as I discussed in my “A few ideas: Part 3” post? This ease of identity validation is one of the reasons why eBay can work in Europe and the US and not necessarily work well here in Nigeria.

These are three potential benefits that I can think of. Do they make sense or do you consider them a load of bunk? Can anyone else think of some other than these and the ones the government is touting? Let me know in the comments section.


Picture of a 1GB SIM from Samsung courtesy of Tech2.com.