NITDA Probes Online Banks over Breach of Customers’ Data Privacy

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The Federal Government has begun a probe of online banks over their alleged breaches of customers’ data privacy, it has been learnt.

The Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency, Kashifu Inuwa, who made this disclosure in Abuja on Monday, said the agency was working with the Nigeria Police Force and other relevant agencies to investigate several lending platforms, popularly called loan shark platforms.

He said this while addressing journalists ahead of the National Privacy Week 2022.

“We are working with relevant agencies to make sure we address that challenge because it is not only NITDA’s mandate that governs everything. When you talk about any financial services, it is the CBN. When you talk about general complaints, there is a commission for that. But NITDA plays a critical role because of the breach of data privacy.

“We have sanctioned some of them. We are working with the Nigerian police, investigating many of them. We are working to address the challenge,” Inuwa said.

Amidst outcry of data invasion by Nigerians against lending platforms, NITDA had imposed a fine of N10m on Soko Loan for data breach last August.

In November 2021, NITDA partnered with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to address the increasing rates of data privacy abuse by money lending organisations, particularly fintech firms.

Reacting to the development, a tech policy analyst at Tech Hive Advisory Limited, Tolulope Ogundele, urged the Federal Government to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach by involving the private sector in order to enhance a better understanding of the lending sector.

She said, “It goes beyond just working or collaborating with other agencies; a multi-stakeholder approach must be adopted. The government must seek the involvement of the private sector in order to understand the lending sector.

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“Before these collaborations amount to any form of regulation, there is a cogent need to thoroughly understand the lending industry and the role of its players but the move to collaborate is a good step and start by the government. However, we must not get carried away with that.”

Also, an ICT expert and Senior Partner at e86 Limited, Olugbenga Odeyemi, said some of the lending platforms were desperate to recover their loans, but it was unfair to breach their customers’ data privacy.

He, however, urged the government to strengthen privacy and data use laws, as well as protect lending platforms from serial loan defaulters.

Odeyemi said, “Loan shark platforms are infringing on the privacy of their users. They simply access the customer’s phone contacts and send out messages without authorisation.  Some of the messages I’ve seen are outright threats and rather unnecessary.  While those platforms can argue that the users accepted their terms and conditions, I think the whole idea is unfair to their users.

“I personally think this is a matter of legislation, especially if we follow the examples of other countries which have done the same thing. We need to strengthen user privacy and data use laws in Nigeria. If we’re able to do that through the National Assembly, then loan sharks and other companies will have to comply.”

He added, “On the other hand, what the loan shark platforms want is to simply recover their funds. Many of them would have sent reminders and called defaulting customers a number of times. They eventually breach the user’s privacy when the user becomes unresponsive. Is it also possible that government finds a way to protect these businesses, especially since it is next to impossible for the average Nigerian to get such loans from commercial banks? I think the government needs to think through a solution that works for all the parties involved.”

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