Newsletter: April 2022
Nothing is mahala! The same holds true for “free” social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook – they have turned us into products.
We call these category of corporations – digital profiteers. Do you recall how the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) allowed companies like Net1 and CPS to abuse the grants process? For years these digital profiteers – loan sharks in suits – were effectively set on millions of people by the State. They were given free reign to harnessing grants recipients’ data and sign them up for predatory financial schemes. This was only stopped through sustained investigations, litigation and advocacy by civil society organisations – much to the irritation of the corporations and politicians who received corrupt hand-outs for their role in these crimes against the poor
The abuse of the grant recipients rights is still ongoing: think of the long lines of desperate people queueing to receive food, a grant or any help from the state at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis? Do you remember people being hosed down in those queues by public officials? SASSA is chronically mismanaged and uncaring. But does this mean that we should trust supposedly benevolent tech firms stepping in to manage this system?
Open Secrets’ investigative report, Digital Profiteers: Who profits next from social grants? exposes the dangers of the decision by SASSA to give access to 13 million South Africans’ data to GovChat, a small corporation with mega-buck backers. What’s the problem with that? Well, GovChat has offered to process Covid 19 grant applications for Mahala. Yes, you heard that right – nothing, nada, niks!
Does that sound too good to be true? We, and others in civil society, think it is, and have raised the red flags 🚩🚩🚩The Financial Mail ran this as cover story – but to date politicians are silent about this uncomfortable issue, maybe because they have a cozy relationship with the Digital Profiteers?
The elephant bulls, large and small, are fighting over a prize: your data. Meta (Facebook/WhatsApp) and GovChat are now locked in a ‘data war’ and while the first round has gone to GovChat, we think this fight is far from over. Which is why we are continuing our vigilance and advocacy, to make sure that our data/privacy rights are recognised as privacy rights.
On 29 March 2022, Open Secrets and Black Sash together with over 60 activists hosted a workshop on Digital Profiteering at Community House in Cape Town. We were delighted to be in the presence of comrades developing plans to mobilise on this very important issue. From the workshop we take away these important lessons and action points:
More needs to be done to inform people impacted by the abuse of their privacy rights of the schemes used by digital profiteers.
The digital transition of the grant system must include the input of its primary stakeholder: the grant recipients themselves.
The digitisation of the grant system is important but it must not come at the expense of equitable access to social security for grant recipients, particularly for the disabled, elderly and illiterate. This means that there should still be ways for grant recipients to make in-person applications and to receive assistance from SASSA staff in a way that is timely and efficient.
Civil society needs more transparent and consistent information from the government and corporations like GovChat about the nature of their contracts and the profit corporations are making from these contracts and our data.
The Information Regulator who we have asked to investigate these Digital Profiteers) must play a proactive role in protecting our data rights.
Data rights are human rights!
The work does not end here. Together with activists and Black Sash we will be taking these issues forward and continue to advocate against digital profiteering at the expense of human rights.
If you think this work is important, help us continue to hold private and public actors accountable by becoming an Open Secrets supporter today!
Phantsi with this data play and phezulu with the protection of our privacy rights!
The Open Secrets Team