The Death of Privacy

Posted on 4 min read

Day after day, our lives are increasingly becoming reliant on internet and technology more than ever. We use computers in form of PCs, tablets, phones, and wearable devices, and every traditional gadget from alarm clock to the refrigerator is becoming smart. We use Google and other engines to navigate the internet, and we depend on the internet to store information and retrieve it on demand. I have recently found myself hopelessly lost in a city while trying to remember directions without using digital maps, and I always check for prices online before shopping offline. Our lives are highly dependent on the internet.

All-Seeing Eye

Carrying a phone with me means that Google knows where I am every day.  They know where I work, because that’s is where my phone is during the day, they know where I live because I spend the night there, and they know the entertainment joint that I frequent on Saturdays. They know that the place that I go and spend some time every Sunday morning must be where I go to church, and they know the people I met since they see the devices meeting together. I trust a browser to help me remember my passwords, with the hope that those passwords I store there are a secret between only me and the browser. I give Apps on my phone permission to read my messages, assuming that they will read only if necessary, only to realize that some of them spend time analysing the SMS that I have received.

T&C, Cookies

Navigating the online space is simple on the surface, but a complicated exercise when we dig deeper. Take the example of the ‘Terms and conditions’ segments that we encounter on many website, applications, software and many other digital tools we use. Do we read that text? No. Do the writers of these T&C expect us to read them? No. In fact, the documents are usually unnecessarily long, written in the smallest font possible, and using complicated terms which a lay person would likely not understand. We have little option other than checking the ‘Accept’ box. Even when browsing any website, we encounter the notorious pop-up ‘This site uses cookies… click here to accept,’ and we always accept without a second thought, not knowing what cookies are.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence devices are making matters more complex. Amazon’s Alexa is a device that is always listening to all that you are saying, while Google has a similar feature on Android phones which can be activated by saying ‘Ok Google.’ When you imagine that someone is listening to everything you say, knows all your passwords, knows every web page you visit, knows where you are at any moment, knows all the people you chat with, and the content of those chats; you only hope that person is God alone. But unfortunately, there are many ‘gods’ doing that.

Why Collect Data?

What do tech firms do with all the data that they have? Governments have always used the data they have to do government work. They spy over the bad guys (sometimes the good guys) and do intelligence. Tech firms are only interested in using the data to make money primarily through sharing the data with third parties. And thus, Facebook will see you chat with someone on WhatsApp, then they recommend that you add them as friends on Facebook. Google will see you searching for pregnancy test kit, and know that they can now start showing you maternity dresses ads. Mobile lending apps read your M-PESA messages and use that to determine how much money they can loan you. Information is a powerful tool, and he who has it, rules the day.

New Order

What are the new realities that we should wake up to? We are seeing more people get concerned about the data being held by tech firms, and new laws and legislation governing use of collected data. Tech firms and users need to guard all the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that they collect, as well as the metadata that can be used to identify a person through their behaviors. There is also a need to ensure that data is encrypted appropriately, both when the data is in transit and when it is seated somewhere in a server.

But an important part is also to ensure that data is used only for the intended purposes. Another good practice is to ensure people who collect data for whatever purpose collect the least amount of data possible, and do not hold it longer than necessary.

Even with regulations and best practices, the concept of privacy is way much different from what it used to be. It is a new world.


The Problem of Fake News

Posted on 4 min read

Was the world ready for the age where everybody would be a media outlet?

Technology has made it easy for anybody to reach a mass audience. A single social media or website post from an obscure source can go viral and influence the world in large scale. Consequently, everybody is always receiving information from multiple sources, and is always faced with the task of sifting through myriads of posts to separate truth from falsehood.

Tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are now working to solve this problem of disinformation, but as someone recently observed, fake news is not a tech problem, but an information problem. Dealing with it will thus involve more than simply adding a piece of code in today’s tech, and could require a lot of societal transformation.

The Fear of Giving Everyone a Voice

It is not the first-time disinformation is threatening civilizations. Christianity faced the same crisis when the Bible was translated from Latin to other languages which any person could read and understand. The church had resisted the move in the fear that giving everybody a Bible would result to skewed interpretations and rise of cults that would crop up everywhere.

That is exactly what happened. Today, cults after cult seem to spread all over the world with the educated being equally prone to the disinformation as the non educated. It is like half of Christianity today is fake news.

This is not a new problem. Disinformation has always existed, only that it does not go by the name fake news. Many times, we call it lies, falsehood, or even deception.

The Influential Teacher

Even in day to day conversations, a certain level of disinformation exists. Earlier in the year I had a chance to meet a teacher in a rural Kenyan set up and discuss various issue such as politics, locust invasion and education.

One thing you need to understand about teachers is that they are one of the most influential people in the society. Educated, with a captive audience, and evenly distributed throughout the country, it is said that one only needs to win teachers in order to win an election. They will do the campaign for you.

But it was the discussion with the teacher that opened my eyes to know that fake news is not a modern-day tech problem, but something that has been with human beings for ages. I disagreed with many thigs things he said about politics and locust invasion because they were outright lies. Yet, he was confident of what he was saying.

What this influential teacher needed was access to a platform and he would have the media to reach more people with information, and we would all be talking about fake news.

Communities Prone to Disinformation

Why does it appear that fake news is winning compared to truth? In Kenya, it could be a cultural problem.

There are some societies where telling the truth is expected. I grew up in one. It is not really about truth, but a general acceptance that it is very evil to tell lies that hurts someone else. Generally, you would not expect to find normal people openly spreading false information.

Unfortunately, this naïve habit is reflected in people’s expectations when both online and offline. It is the reason why politicians are able to deceive many people with very obvious lies. Very few people are able to pick up such lies.

It could also be the reason why we have a big number of people who believe that everything they read on the internet is true. All the news sources are treated equal, and the most sensational ones receive the highest traffic. Even when content is labelled satire or is served by questionable tabloids, people still end up believing the stories they want to believe. Check the reaction that www.postamate.com gets on social media.

Fueling the Fake Fire

Human beings have a great love for solving mysteries, new information, and being the ones to break news. Perhaps, it is why conspiracies theories always find an audience.

We also like the information that confirms what we believe, whether it is true or false. This is why we quickly share news that are aligned with what we want to be true, irrespective of whether the information is factual or not. If you do not like person X, you will believe anything negative about X, and question anything positive about X.

The problem with fake news or false information is that it receives a lifeline from the audience and goes viral. Friends know it is false. Enemies want it to be the true. Others will share maybe because it is funny. Where it is also shared matters.

WhatsApp groups form a perfect echo chamber where information is shared among like minded people, further amplifying the effect of fake news. The more fake information is shared, the more it is believed.

Fake news is not short term problem.


Internet Addiction

Posted on 2 min read

The internet is an important platform for today’s communication; that is why you are able to read this article. However, just like any other good thing, the internet is prone to abuse through such things as fueling disinformation, cyber-attacks, online bullying, health issues and even internet addiction.

One common problem among those is the problem of internet addiction. This is where one has an online-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment.

The internet addiction problem is very similar to gambling addiction or drug addiction that occurs in real life. Drugs have active components that make one addicted to them, be it alcohol, nicotine or cocaine. However, no one starts using drugs to get addicted, but to feel normal.

This is the same case with the internet. No one sets out to get addicted, but the continued use leads to dependency and one has to keep using the internet to sustain the feeling. This could be for entertainment, creating a sense of belonging in online community, or even killing time. One reason for addiction is the psychology behind the design of the internet tools that we use today that are meant to capture attention for the longest time possible. There are other predisposing factors such as anxiety and depression, environmental factors such as unchecked access to the internet, or even genetics.

Signs of Internet Addiction

Is your internet use a habit or an addiction? A habit is not a problem, but an addiction is. Here are signs that you could be a problem with addiction.

  • Increasing or too much time spent online
  • Time management problems due to unhealthy use of the internet
  • Difficulty in doing day to day activities such as work or studying.
  • Health problems such as lack of sleep
  • Dependence on online relationships more than the physical ones
  • Presence of withdrawal symptoms when not using the internet

Most people who are addicted to the internet usually think they are not, and even become defensive when one suggests that they need to reduce on their online activities. Perhaps, the best thing one can do is to seek help if you think you are addicted. Here are a few steps you can take of you want to take charge of your time online.

  • Make deliberate effort to engage with people offline.
  • Monitor the amount of time you spend online. Modern smartphones and computers have tools to do that.
  • Get rid of triggers that lead you to the internet. This could be something like the presence of Apps or notification in your phone.
  • Learn to deal with boredom in a different way. Get creative ways to deal with boredom away from the internet.


17 Business Lessons I’ve Learnt Building a Tech Company

Posted on 3 min read

I have spent most of my working years thinking about Cloud services and offering them at Truehost Cloud. I have experienced great success and also failures. Now that it is the time of the year that I audit my life because I am turning one year older, I decided to share some lessons learnt through the journey.

Nothing special about 17; it is just that they came to that number. If I had some good time I would collapse them to fewer, or add more which would take more time to put in words. I hope you will relate with some of them in your business, or even in life.

Note: Not in the order of importance.

  1. Cash is king. You need to have cash when you need it, otherwise you will stall. You can find innovative ways of minimizing your need for cash by having lean operations, but the moment the cash needed exceeds cash at hand, your growth will be impacted.
  2. However, sometimes the need for cash may not be as critical as it appears, for many times cash shortage has forced people to innovate in ways they would not have thought possible.
  3. A sale is very important. It doesn’t matter how great your product is if you are not selling. There are many great products out there which no one is buying, while some not very good products continue to dominate the market.
  4. Execution is more important than the idea. It only matters a little how creative, smart, connected or even experienced you are. Only those who can execute what they envisage are successful. History is full of smart geniuses who died empty for they did nothing. So are entrepreneurs. Take the first step and get it working.
  5. It might take a lifetime to get it right, but you have to keep doing it. The world also changes, and what worked yesterday might not work today, thus a need for one to be on the move, and to keep trying.
  6. The customer is number one. Work for the customer and the mission will make sense for everybody else.
  7. Dream big, but also wake up and work hard. There is so much one can achieve if only they can dream it possible.
  8. Working smart is overrated, even for those born with a silver spoon in their mouth. You have to do a lot of work and get your hands dirty of you are to stay on top of the game.
  9. There is a (big) place for luck in business, but it falls on those who try more. If you keep doing things, and learning, and trying again, and refining your strategy, you will get lucky.
  10. You need a team. A team is hard to build, and a team is as strong as the weakest member. Build a strong team and you can take any challenge.
  11. There is no substitute for knowledge and experience. Businesses collapse due to lack of knowledge. Get knowledge at all costs, and learn as much as you can.
  12. The longer you do business, the better you become. Start early and rise up fast when you fail.
  13. Your networks matter a lot. Build great networks and use them where possible. Your friends might be your first clients and your main marketing channels.
  14. Entrepreneurship is hard for people who do not have a social safety net. This is because at some point you will fail and you will need a support system. However, if it is necessary, burn the ships and get in there headlong. I don’t promise that you won’t regret that move.
  15. Some things excelled because they were launched at the right time. But even with timing being right, the other factors must also be right to survive.
  16. Do not underestimate yourself. More important, do not overrate yourself. If you succeed, do not think you are good, while if you fail, do not think you cannot do it.
  17. Learn from other people in business. You can learn a lot by asking other people who have been there and avoid repeating their mistakes while acquiring their best practices. Reinventing the wheel might good for experience and exposure, but stupid for your cash book.

Thanks to the team at Truehost Cloud for the support.

Found something helpful? Go ahead and share!


Making E-Commerce Work

Posted on 2 min read

I need an Ecommerce website where I can sell my products that I often market via WhatsApp and Instagram.

This is the question I have encountered many times from people who want to sell their products online, and want to set up an ecommerce website. The easiest solution is to design for them a website, train them on how to add products, set up a payment method and get them started. However, this method rarely works.

Setting up a website, integrating payments and training someone on how to use it is an expensive task. Yet, for most starters, they are not looking forward to selling tons of goods for a start, and the labor-intensive work of adding and managing stock is not something they enjoy.

Besides, the biggest hurdle comes to delivery. Getting products delivered to a buyer in Kenya is hard, or extremely expensive. There are few logistics firms that can deliver conveniently and at an affordable cost for small volumes of goods.

A Different Approach

To solve all those problems, a Kenyan startup, Mzizzi, is offering to scratch the itch. With an ecommerce platform that is now being used by over 1000 merchants in Kenya, Mzizzi is offering a platform that comes a ready-made e-commerce website, payment integration and delivery of products. This means that if you sign up on their platform, you only need to send them your catalogue, and they will get the website up and running, manage your stocks, and do the delivery of the products.

With this approach, small merchants can effectively sell online without having to worry about how heir goods will be delivered. They also have someone to respond to queries and monitor stocks so that they can focus more on business development. Mzizi does not charge any set up fee, but they make money from commissions charged on every sale made.

We hope to see the platform transforming e-commerce in Kenya.


Can SACCOs Save Kenyans from Predatory Digital Lending Apps?

Posted on 3 min read

Kenya is a first of many, but it is possibly the SACCO movement that stands tallest, although little talked about. In terms of savings, Kenya has the largest SACCO movement in Africa, and SACCOs have been the preferred source of credit for many people. But just like with any thriving industry, disruptions are always around the corner and while SACCOs depended on a good savings history to loan people money, a new form of lending that depends more on the reputation of the borrower more than their saving history has taken a big share of the market. The term for it is digital loans.

Growth of digital Lending in Kenya

With the advent of mobile phones and increased internet penetration, borrowing of money has been shifting from the traditional channels to electronic channels. Financial institutions started digitizing their services and started taking advantage of the digital economy. One of those steps was to make financial transactions faster and lending more efficient. However, it was not until 7 years ago that digital lending became popular with the launch of M-Shwari (a partnership between Safaricom’s Mpesa and Commercial Bank of Africa, CBA). Today, there are over 50 digital lending apps in Kenya that are churning out loans worth millions of shillings every day.

The lending apps exploit social information and apply various artificial intelligence tools to determine creditworthiness. This involves factors such as your mobile phone airtime usage, the amount of money you transact every month, your likes, location, Facebook friends and even how you save people in your phonebook. Algorithms are able to analyze the data and determine how much you are worth with some astounding levels of accuracy. This is possibly why there are less defaulters of mobile money loans than there are for shopkeepers, banks and loans from friends and family as shown in the figure below.

Figure 1:1 Proportion of defaulters by loan type, 2019 (%). Source: Central Bank of Kenya, 2019 FinAccess Household Survey.

Impact of Digital Loans

There has been a lot of talk on financial inclusion afforded by these mobile apps. Many people who could never afford credit are now able to get cash to boost their businesses, pay school fees, or for whatever purpose. Banking on the high penetration of mobile money in Kenya, it is now faster and easier than ever to get a credit facility and have the money sent directly to your phone. The number of people who use these apps keeps growing.

But on the flipside, there is the dark side of the mobile-based loans. While most of these digital platforms do not charge interest, they have what is called set-up fee for every loan. While most of them are very short term in nature, the effective ‘interest’ charged by these apps comes to about 90% p.a for the conservative ones like M-Shwari and KCB-MPESA, and up to 180% p.a for Tala and Branch. These rates make the poor people who need these loans to use the most expensive form of credit that anyone can get. In comparison, SACCO loans charge an average of 12% per year while banks are limited to not more than 4% above Central Bank of Kenya lending rate, which would translate to 13% per year.

How SACCOs can intervene

For ages, SACCOs have occupied a prime spot when it comes to lending. However, they are not the preferred go-to shop when one urgently needs a loan of KES 500, 1000, or 15,000. This is the market that has been left to digital lending apps. Yet, it is the members of these SACCOs who go ahead to borrow from these apps. SACCOs would be better positioned to offer these micro loans, as they already have members’ savings as security, and their interest rates would be more affordable. This would make the credit more affordable, non-predatory and low risk.

Unfortunately, most SACCOs in Kenya are small in nature, and lack the financial muscle to deploy systems that can allow them to lend to their members using mobile apps. There already exists systems and mobile apps that can allow for SACCOs to do this, but the adoption of these systems is still low for the majority of the SACCOs. Many also have a high staff turnover rate, and depend on semi trained personnel to run the operations. This makes it even harder for these SACCO to intervene. Perhaps, the government and umbrella bodies should focus on how to get an effective system for the SACCOs which will help them face the Silicon Valley based lenders.