[Dave Birch] I was given a useful insight into a different perspective on identity, the developing countries perspective, when I spoke on a panel at the Chatham House conference on Technology and Development. I’d actually been invited along because I know about mobile payments and mobile banking in developing countries, not because I particularly know anything about NGOs, foreign aid or so on, but it gave me the opportunity to sit in on some discussions that I wouldn’t otherwise have heard. For example, one of the audience asked a question about the deployment of mobile phones in the development world, a question that would never have occurred to me. The question was about security and privacy, and I won’t violate Chatham House rules by giving away an identifying information, suffice to say that the core of the question was about the use of mobile phone data, mobile phone location information, call records and billing information. In some countries, where you are and who you call is dangerous information that can have disastrous consequences.

I have to be honest and report that as a technologist, I felt that I was not in touch with large sections of the audience. I don’t really understand what they do, so it would be inappropriate to criticise, but just to be honest with readers I have to make my position clear: financial inclusion is a good thing, and I’ll do what I can to help our customers to do it, but identity management can be a good thing too and I’ll do what I can to help our customers to make peoples’ lives better. The benefits of mobile technology in both cases are great, and the fact that it may be used for evil is not reason to not use it, any more than you would not use mobile phones in the UK because drug dealers or bank robbers use them.

Some people also said that they were uncomfortable with mobile phones and the web spreading in developing countries because it would undermine “cultural norms”. It’s not the subject of this blog, and I don’t want to make a point about, but I felt that it was such an odd comment that I couldn’t help but record it. One of the speakers complained that modern mobile technology really wasn’t suitable for developing countries because his Blackberry didn’t work properly in Africa.

You live and learn.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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