Safaricom is finally fixing M-Pesa’s Privacy issues …sort of

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Safaricom M-PESA Privacy Kenya

Back in January when I was writing about Safaricom’s M-Pesa privacy issues, I didn’t know it would be a topic that would attract a lot of conversation online. People picked up the article on different social media platforms countering my arguments, offering their own thoughts, and trying to get Safaricom to do something. It remains one of the most commented-on opinion pieces on this site.

This week, as Safaricom marked 20 years in the business, they introduced something new called “Pochi la Biashara“. The idea targets micro/small businesses where one can have two wallets under the same M-Pesa account to help them differentiate between personal and business transactions.

Unlike Paybills and Till numbers, which are special numbers Safaricom gives businesses to help customers quickly pay for goods/services, with Pochi la Biashara the personal phone number is what will be used. That’s already how many of such businesses operate. When you go to a kiosk or the market, or you use a bodaboda, you often send M-Pesa to their phone number directly. The difference now is that you will be sending money directly to their business wallet, not their personal M-Pesa account. And the good thing is this: Safaricom won’t share your phone number with them in what the company describes as a move to protect the privacy of both the customer and the business owner.

This is the first time we are seeing this sort of privacy-first approach on the M-Pesa platform. Because with all other M-Pesa features, as I listed in the article back in January, you often leave so many personal details with unknown parties in very many different use cases. This is data unknown parties can use or abuse in unknown ways including full-on identity theft.

While it is unclear whether or not Pochi la Biashara will pick up – especially given the fact that currently to use the feature one needs to dial *334# rather than go to the SIM Toolkit, or the mySafaricom app which are more secure – what we can speculate is that these privacy-first solutions will soon make their way to more M-Pesa features like Paybills, Till numbers, and even personal transactions with unknown individuals.

I am yet to find a person with a small business who has signed up for Pochi la Biashara to see how the transactions look like. Does Safaricom only hide the phone number? Or are names also hidden? Do I get to see the name of the business or the personal names of the business owner? How do the owners get to okay transaction reversals? Is it reliable, and can the same be copied over to all transactions later on?

What I am hopeful for is a time when an M-Pesa transaction won’t mean giving someone all my names, and phone number. A time when having someone’s number won’t mean getting to see their personal details because of features like Hakikisha. A time when the very unique transaction reference code will be enough.



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