5 Ways to Improve Your Data Security (Today!) for Digital Data Collection

Guest post by Alexis Ditkowsky 

Close your eyes and imagine you’re being interviewed about your sexual behaviors, your finances, and your health conditions – and then asked the same questions about each member of your family. The person speaking with you has taken photos of you, your children, and your home, and they captured your GPS coordinates within one meter of accuracy.

You’ve trusted a stranger with incredibly personal and easily identifiable information.

But what steps are they taking to keep your data secure and your family safe?

On Thursday, March 9, mSTAR’s Abdul Bari Farahi and SurveyCTO’s Faizan Diwan led a presentation on data security for electronic field-based data collection with an emphasis on what you can do today to improve security practices during each step of the process. data-flowsHere are five takeaways:

1.) Improve your security on tablets and smartphones

  • Encrypt your tablets
    • Most Android devices come with 1-2-click settings to encrypt tablets as a whole
  • Install an Android app that allows you to lock, track, and wipe remotely (e.g. Avira)
  • Use a data collection app that allows for encrypting collected data “at-rest”
    • This way, even those who collect the data can no longer see it after the form has been finalized

2.) Improve security on your server

  • Use a platform that allows you to use your own encryption keys, so even your software vendor cannot view the data if they try
    • Encryption in transit and encryption at rest are not enough
  • Use a good password!

3.) Improve security on your computer

  • Keep exported data in an encrypted folder on your computer when not in use
    • BoxCryptor offers a desktop encryption option that lets you share data via Box while keeping it encrypted
  • Use a good password!
  • For an additional layer of security, you could also use a cold room computer, which is never connected to the internet
  • Avoid connecting to unknown and insecure and or unencrypted networks

4.) Improve security for your organization

  • Develop standards of practice, check lists, and other shared resources
  • Mitigate cybersecurity risk
  • Use technology that is secure but convenient
  • Use two-factor authentication where possible
  • Raise security awareness within organizations
  • Avoid single point of failure on all critical elements of business including employees, servers, technologies, and strategies
  • Backup data continuously
  • Create an environment for continuous monitoring of “everything all the time”

5.) Improve security in your sector

  • Encourage donors to increase pressure on grantees to deliver on data security commitments
  • Work with IRBs to create electronic data security policies in their requirements and guidelines
  • Develop sector-wide standards for reporting and investigating data security lapses

Too often the perceived costs of strong data security get in the way of taking low-burden but high-impact action to improve practices. And while the costs of poor practices can be hard to quantify, the risk to your reputation and to the safety of respondents, particularly in humanitarian situations, is all too real.

Alexis Ditkowsky works on community-based initiatives at Dobility, the social enterprise behind SurveyCTO

Photo courtesy of John Snow, Inc.

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Mobile Money Solves Risky Cash and Lack of Loans for Farmers in Ghana: New Video

This is the last of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture. To view the other blogs, visit the home page of our blog.


Like in many developing countries, agriculture is the mainstay of the Ghanaian economy. 62 percent of Ghanaians are employed in the sector, says Doris Amponsaa Owusu, Business Services Specialist for USAID’s ADVANCE II Project (Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement). ADVANCE II, implemented by ACDI/VOCA, supports the scaling up of agricultural investments to improve the competitiveness of important value chains in Ghana, and is supported by Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global huger and food security initiative.

In Ghana, buyers drive from the south to buy food from the rural, agricultural north. But due to a lack of banks in the north, buyers must carry huge sums of money as they travel across the country. Dealing with this amount of cash is risky and cumbersome for buyers and farmers alike.

Doris explains how her ADVANCE II team sat down to think about how they could eliminate the risk of carrying large amounts of cash. Mobile money provided a perfect solution: it diminishes the threat of theft and ensures buyers are able to pay farmers efficiently and smoothly. Plus, mobile money is simple to use and offers the ability to access additional financial services such as savings, insurance, and credit.

To implement the mobile money solution, ADVANCE II partnered with MTN, one of the largest mobile network providers in Ghana. MTN piloted the mobile banking service with a farm in northern Ghana. They first trained a group of nucleus farmers, farmers who contract and provide support to smallholder farmers, in the mobile money service. After being trained by ADVANCE II, the nucleus farmers subsequently trained 1,072 smallholder farmers. Farmers enjoyed the service Doris says, and approached ADVANCE II asking to scale up the project. So ADVANCE II trained input dealers and out grower businesses.

After success with the farmers, out growers, and input dealers, ADVANCE II saw more benefits mobile money could offer. The farming communities Doris and her team work with have savings and loan associations, where each farmer contributes weekly towards production for the next season. “The women still have to keep these moneys in metal boxes kept under the beds,” says Doris. So her team partnered with MTN and Fidelity, a banking firm, to digitize the savings and loan associations.

ADVANCE II and the farmers they work with are excited about the results of mobile money, and plan to scale up the program to 10,000 smallholder farmers. “I would recommend it to any project that would want to implement mobile money or digital finance as part of their project approach,” says Francis Ussuman, Regional Coordinator on the ADVANCE II team.

In the video below, Doris, Francis, and local farmers show how ADVANCE II implemented mobile money in Ghana and impacted the agricultural sector.

As the video shows, digital financial services have the potential to strengthen Feed the Future projects around the globe. USAID is here to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, read the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov

New Video Shows How Mobile Money Makes Inroads in Malawi

This is the second of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture.


Malawi’s economy is “built on the backbone of the smallholder farmer,” says Kilyelyani Kanjo, who served as Chief of Party of the FHI 360-led Feed the Future Malawi Mobile Money Project. But smallholder farmers face a major challenge: cash. Farmers who transact in cash face issues of theft and security, and they incur huge costs as they travel long distances to access banks.

“There’s a better way to move money: mobile money.” Kilyelyani says. In Malawi, mobile phones have penetrated the rural areas. Phones have become ubiquitous. With mobile money services, farmers can access their bank account as long as they have their phone. Through support by Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the project focuses on strengthening the ecosystem so that mobile money can take off.

To do this, the Feed the Future Malawi Mobile Money Project takes a strategic approach. It builds capacity for service providers, banks, and regulators. Kilyelyani and her team create spaces where stakeholders, including competitors, share ideas, forge partnership and work together to strengthen mobile banking in Malawi. The project works on issues around financial literacy and creates public awareness campaigns.

Their efforts have made a significant impact in the uptake of mobile money in Malawi. In 2012, there were 200,000 mobile money subscribers in Malawi. Now, there are 2 million. Moreover, the government is closely involved in and has formally recognized the project’s efforts through a collaboration called the Mobile Money Coordination Group.

Mobile money is really an important element that any Feed the Future project can do,” says Steven Kulyazi, a Program Officer for the Malawi Mobile Money Project. Like in Malawi, mobile money can transform the reach and success of a project and impact agricultural outcomes for smallholder farmers, who are the backbone of many countries’ economies.

As Steven says, any USAID project can implement mobile money in their project. USAID is ready to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

Watch this video to hear from Steven, Kileyelyani, and others on how the Malawi Mobile Money project successfully strengthens mobile money in Malawi.

 

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, read the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov.

Mobile Money Helps Farmers Grow Their Businesses in Bangladesh

This is the first of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture.


Mobile money can transform the reach and success of a USAID project.

By offering a secure way to store money and access financial services, mobile money has the potential to increase the efficiency of programs and significantly improve the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Carrying cash in the field can be precarious for development workers and beneficiaries alike, as many USAID missions and partners know. In Bangladesh, “there is a security risk and safety risk,” says a representative from WorldFish, a non-profit that works with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Cash can be lost, or worse, stolen. But until recently, cash was the only form of payment—it’s how farmers paid for agricultural inputs and how buyers paid for agricultural products. “There was no other channel,” explains Josh Woodard, Regional ICT & Digital Finance Advisor at FHI 360.

Mobile money has emerged as an obvious solution to the risk of carrying cash. While access to banks is limited for rural agricultural communities, access to mobile phones is not. In June 2016, for example, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission reported 131.4 million mobile phone subscriptions in Bangladesh. This makes up around 83% of Bangladesh’s population. With this, mobile money has seen massive growth in Bangladesh. It has “opened an opportunity to eliminate or vastly reduce the amount of cash transactions,” Josh says.

Josh leads the Bangladesh office for the FHI 360-led and USAID-funded Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research project (mSTAR).  In addition to reducing the risk of staff carrying cash, USAID and mSTAR saw the impact mobile money could have in achieving the goals of USAID agricultural programs in the country. To start, mSTAR assessed where and how mobile money could be applied in project value chains. They conducted value chain studies and provided technical assistance, training staff and building capacity.

“Since mSTAR started activities in Bangladesh in September 2013,” Josh says, “we have been able to work with USAID to digitize payments for 10 Feed the Future activities.” Farmers now have access to financial products, many for the first time. Without money stolen or lost, and with the ability to store and manage money, farmers can reinvest more in their farms, in turn increasing the amount of food they can produce, and their profits. All this leads to stronger, and safer, communities.

Watch the video below to see how USAID and mSTAR implemented mobile money in Bangladesh and worked with implementing partners to successfully impact beneficiary farmers.

As the Bangladesh example shows, digital financial services have the potential to strengthen Feed the Future projects around the globe. USAID is here to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, walk through the steps of the online Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov

2016: A Year of Digital Development in Action

In 2016, mSTAR implemented 41 activities.

It was a year of dedicated work towards mSTAR’s goal of using technology to improve lives in underserved communities.

Read our 2016 Annual Report.

Our 2016 activities spanned Central America, Asia, and Africa. They included  diverse activities such as the Innovations Awards for original uses of data for resilience; a widely-received report on alternative business models for connectivity; and a Financial Inclusion Forum highlighting Bill Gates. All 41 activities were exciting and meaningful; here are our most noteworthy:

First of its kind digitally-enabled micro-credit in Bangladesh.
One of the biggest challenges farmers face in Bangladesh is that they pay back loans weekly. Paying loans so regularly can cause a snowball effect of debt for farmers who, due to the nature of farming, don’t have a steady weekly income. Once crops are in the ground, it may be a few months before they have income. To pay back the original loan farmers are often forced to “take out other loans…and rush to sell their crops immediately after harvest,” Josh Woodard, mSTAR Regional ICT and Digital Finance Specialist, has said. Rushing to sell  crops means farmers often don’t get their full market value. To address this, mSTAR has worked with two different banks in Bangladesh, Bank Asia and IFIC Bank Limited, to launch two new digitally-enabled micro-credit products for farmers; the first using NFC-enabled debit cards, the latter using mobile wallets. Both of these products have much lower interest rates than alternative options offered by microfinance institutions, as well as much more attractive repayment terms—a single repayment after six months, instead of weekly installments. With these products, farmers can now pay after harvest. No longer in a rush to see their produce, they are more likely to receive a better price. In a country where most people work in agriculture, these new products could be critical to stemming poverty and breaking a cycle of debt. Over 250 farmers have signed up for the initial pilots of these two products, and both banks are already eyeing expansion to thousands of more farmers.

Mobile money salary payments for teachers in Liberia.
Through mobile money, mSTAR is transforming the daily lives of teachers in rural areas. In 2016, mSTAR successfully rolled out mobile salary payments for teachers in Nimba County. Sixty-seven teachers received payments in the first mobile payment payroll. 100 percent reported saving time compared to traditional direct deposit. Mobile salary payments also helped teachers save money. Before, teachers reported spending approximately 13.5 hours and $25 of their salary to pick up their money. After mobile payments, they spent an average of 25 minutes and $2 in service fees to cash out their mobile money. The success of the rollout has resulted in buy-ins to roll out mobile money to health workers and to teachers nationwide.

Addressing the data gap in mobile phone users.
mSTAR, USAID/Mozambique and DFID, through DAI’s Financial Sector Deepening project, set out to clearly understand the landscape of growing mobile phone users. mSTAR and partners interviewed over 6,000 mobile phone users and non-users. The survey garnered valuable information and data about the availability and accessibility of mobile technologies and the way people use mobile phones in their daily lives. The findings will allow USAID staff in Mozambique to make smarter programming decisions as they increasingly rely on digital technologies to deliver better results.

In 2016, mSTAR used technology for better development outcomes across sectors. We encouraged innovative uses of data for resilience and rolled out mobile money products that show real promise in improving daily lives and diminishing the threat of poverty. In 2016, we continued to establish digital technologies as some of the most exciting and promising avenues to improving lives among the most vulnerable throughout the world.

Review our 2016 Annual Report (with pictures!) here. 

Call for Case Studies! Responsible Data Practices in Digital Development

Do you have a digital technology project that manages personally identifiable or otherwise protected/sensitive data on beneficiaries in the field?

Have you struggled with and addressed challenges around balancing the need for information, protecting it from misuse, and mitigating privacy risks?

Would you like to engage with and inform USAID on development of best practices for ethical data collection, use, and management in field-based programs?

We want to hear from you!

mSTAR is looking for up to three projects where we can test and apply our draft good practice guidelines for ethical collection, use, management, sharing and release of data in field-based digital development programs.

The use of digital technologies is increasing in development programs. This has the potential to yield tremendous benefits but also increases the chances of exposing individuals and communities to harms and privacy risks related to poorly managed and protected data. USAID and its implementing partners recognize these challenges, especially the need for good practices to guide collection, use and sharing of data in a responsible manner.

Therefore, in collaboration with Sonjara, Inc., Georgetown University and the USAID Global Development Lab, mSTAR is conducting research on existing practices, policies, systems, and legal frameworks through which international development data is collected, used, shared, and released. Based on this research, the team will develop good practice guidelines for USAID that will be tested against real world experiences in field-based digital development programs and that will help:

  • Mitigate privacy and security risks for beneficiaries and others
  • Improve performance and development outcomes through use of data
  • Promote transparency, accountability and public good through open data

mSTAR is looking for digital development projects to assess how our guidelines would work in real world settings. Once selected, the research team will conduct field visits of 1-2 weeks per project, in order to understand “on-the-ground” context and project needs. The research team will work with the project management team to apply draft practice guidelines to each case, help identify what practices work and any gaps in the guidelines. The team will also capture feedback from the project management team and partners on implications for project costs and timelines, as well as document existing good practices and lessons learned from the project on how they manage their data. These findings will be used to further refine the USAID Responsible Data Practice guidelines.

What types of projects are we looking for?

  • Ongoing or recently concluded projects that are using digital technologies (SMS, IVR, mobile based data collection, USSD, software, social media platforms, sensors/IoT, etc.) to collect, store, analyze, manage, use and share individuals’ data.
  • The data could include personally identifiable information (PII) and/or other personal information such as health records of pregnant mothers, teachers’ attendance, financial transaction history of individuals, HIV/TB status, and/or other potentially sensitive information like LGBTQI status, membership in vulnerable groups (disability, ethic/tribal minority etc.), geocoded information, etc.
  • The project should have informal or formal processes for privacy/security risk assessment and mitigation especially with respect to field implementation of digital technologies (listed above) as part of their program. These may be implicit or explicit (i.e. documented or written). They potentially include formal review processes conducted by ethics review boards or institutional review boards (IRBs) for projects. Submissions of cases are NOT limited to only projects that have conducted formal ethics review. Projects that have been clearly defined as “research,” however, are excluded from this analysis. Note that, while information security processes are highly relevant to the overall problem of mitigating privacy risks, we are NOT looking for case studies that are entirely about information security/cybersecurity practices.
  • All sectors of international development are welcome to submit case studies. We are looking for diversity in context and programming.
  • Projects from all geographical regions are welcome.
  • We prefer case studies from USAID-funded projects but are open to receiving case studies from other donor-supported projects.

If your project or activity falls under the above criteria, please take a few minutes to share your project information here. We welcome multiple submissions from one organization; simply reuse this form for each case study proposed.

Contributions must be received by March 1, 2017.

Your help and support are much appreciated! Please share this call with others who may be interested in contributing case studies.

Click here to submit your case study. 

Reports: Digital Financial Services Can Help Accelerate Economic Development in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh government’s ambitious “2021 vision” aims to reduce poverty and digitize government services.

To reach this goal, significant improvements to the agriculture sector, the country’s biggest sector, will have to be made. Just under half of the Bangladeshi population works directly in agriculture and roughly 70 percent of the country depends on agriculture to some extent for their livelihood. Agriculture contributes 16.33 percent to the national GDP. As in many countries, agriculture is heavily dependent on weather and susceptible to damage from natural events, making it an unreliable industry. When there is a bad crop, farmers and those affected by agriculture face the possibility of poverty.

In two major reports, Integrating Digital Financial Services into Agricultural Value Chains: A Bangladesh Market Landscape Assessment, and Study on Pattern of Financial Flow Within Agricultural Market System, mSTAR and USAID’s Agricultural Value Chains Project (AVC), led by DAI, have identified that integrating digital financial services within Bangladesh’s agriculture value chains can help stabilize agriculture and help the government meet its 2021 goals.

mSTAR and AVC launched the reports at an event with over 50 professionals representing the central bank of Bangladesh, the Ministry of Agriculture, multi-lateral donor agencies, development organizations, digital financial services (DFS) providers, financial institutions, insurance providers, mobile network operators and impact investors.

Presenting the report Integrating Digital Financial Services into Agricultural Value Chains: A Bangladesh Market Landscape Assessment, mSTAR’s Josh Woodard, Regional ICT & Digital Finance Advisor, spoke about the financial needs of various value chain actors—from smallholder farmers all the way up to wholesalers—and offered up potential opportunities for DFS to address those needs.

Following the presentation, a reputable panel including Joint Secretary from the Ministry of Agriculture, Toufiqul Alam, Joint Director of the Payment Services Department at Bangladesh Bank, Mohammad Akhlasuddin and representatives from Bank Asia and bKash, discussed the potential of financial inclusion and DFS across agricultural value chains. Alam detailed the various initiatives the Ministry has taken to increase efficiency and agriculture production, including the Agricultural Credit Disbursement program that provides farmers a 4% interest rate on loans for high value crops and 2% for spices.

Representatives from Bank Asia and bKash added how both organizations are addressing the needs of the rural segment by connecting the dots between different financial flows.

The event concluded with the note that DFS can help accelerate economic development across agriculture value chains via increased connectivity to formal financial services, ultimately playing a pivotal role in increasing efficiency and productivity.

Liberian Health Care Workers Transition to Mobile Money

By Erica Bustinza, mSTAR/Liberia Project Manager

Meet Kou, a health worker in rural Nimba County, Liberia. During the Ebola crisis, Kou took action to combat the disease, going door-to-door in her community to stop its spread. The relentless determination of Kou and her peers to rise each morning and fight back against the illness helped bring the epidemic to a halt.

Despite facing life-threatening risks performing her daily work duties, Kou wasn’t able to access her pay. To pick up her salary she had to travel a far distance from her rural community to the bank, but travel was restricted due to quarantines and was risky because of the prevalence of Ebola and difficult road conditions. While many of her peers protested the lack of pay through boycotts, Kou continued working towards saving her country.

To increase efficiency of payments, FHI 360’s Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research (mSTAR) Project, funded by USAID, is working with Liberia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to offer mobile money salary payments. This gives health workers the option to receive their salaries from mobile money agents who are often closer and more convenient than banks.

Kou spends a shocking amount of her salary on collecting her salary. Her monthly net income is LD 14,300 (USD $146) of which she spends LD 800 on transportation to the bank to retrieve her salary. At the bank she is frequently told that the bank “system is down” and is forced to wait until the money is accessible, sometimes for several days. During this time not only is Kou missing work, but she’s also racking up costs. She spends LD 100 round trip to her relative’s house where she can sleep, LD 150 on food and LD 100 on a phone card to inform her family of the delay. At the bank, Kou waits in line for four hours and then pays LD 300 in bribes to finally pick up her salary. When she receives the cash it is LD 13,200 (USD $135) instead of the LD 14,300 that she expected. The bank can only offer the explanation that this is what was deposited and Kou has no access to a paystub explaining the additional deductions. After spending another LD 800 to return home, Kou is left with LD 10,950, only 77% of her salary.

mSTAR first worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Education to roll-out mobile money salary payments for teachers. The mSTAR team faced questions and challenges during the rollout, such as cash availability (liquidity) and participant targeting. When mSTAR began to plan for rolling out MOH salary payments the team did not assume that the challenges for health workers would mirror those in education. To gain a clear understanding of health payment systems, use of mobile technology, and health worker attitudes and trust in the government, mSTAR and the MOH completed two related analyses: Liberian Health Workers and Mobile Money: An Ethnography and A Contextual Analysis of Payment Disbursements for Liberian Health Workers. The ethnography describes the experiences and attitudes of health workers in Liberia with regards to mobile phone usage and salary disbursement, while the Contextual Analysis explores the cultural, social and environmental context of payment disbursements. The research was done by the mSTAR team and 10 researchers across five counties who conducted direct observation, focus group discussions and key informant interviews.

Some of the findings confirmed what was already known – that health workers spend a relatively large portion of their salaries and a significant amount of time away from their jobs and families to collect monthly pay. The reports confirmed widely held assumptions, like the lack of trust health workers felt towards their employer because of inconsistent deductions and unreliable frequency of payments.

The reports also unearthed new, surprising findings that will impact the project’s roll out. For example, a majority of health workers that participated in the study already use mobile money. They are sending remittances to family for child care, school fees and as unexpected expenses arise. In some cases, mobile money is even used to pay bills or pay the school for fees directly.

Kou doesn’t like the current system through which she receives her salary, but she is still skeptical of the new and unfamiliar mobile money system. mSTAR’s comprehensive look at Kou’s and her peers’ patterns allows mSTAR’s team to frame mobile money in a context Kou understands and build trust in the system by relating it to health workers’ current needs.

With this targeted method, Kou will better understand the system and will be more likely to enroll in mobile money payments, which will enable her to collect her salary while avoiding unnecessary travel away from home and expenses. Most importantly, the mobile money approach helps keep Kou safe, and in the rare occurrence where traveling becomes dangerous again in Liberia, Kou will be able to receive her salary and continue caring for her community.

Erica Bustinza is the Project Manager overseeing mSTAR activities in Liberia. She has worked in development for over 10 years in various geographic regions and sectors, primarily focused on access to finance, economic development and technology integration.

Photo credit: CDC Global

How To Move Digital Inclusion Forward in 2017

Looking towards the new year and the close of the Obama Administration, it is motivating to reflect on the large strides made in digital inclusion. The rise of digital inclusion has transformed individual lives and communities across the world. Through mobile phones and the internet, remote communities once cut off from basic information and services can now access resources, education, local and international markets, and job opportunities.

In such ways, digital inclusion is helping millions climb out of extreme poverty.

“The ‘digitization’ of developing economies could yield as much as a $4.1 trillion increase in GDP among the 3.9 billion consumers at the base of the pyramid,” writes Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director of the Global Development Lab in a blog titled, Foreign Assistance in the Digital Age, with input from mSTAR’s Shailee Adinolfi, Technical Advisor.

“Imagine a world,” the piece continues, where “health workers in rural communities are not only sharing maternal health information videos with their patients, but sending and receiving payments using mobile money and consulting in real-time with medical experts. ‘Digital development’ can be a driver of more inclusive economic growth and is poised to be a critical component of global efforts to end extreme poverty.”

Although significant advancements in digital inclusion have been made, there are billions of people who remain unconnected. Chang, with inputs from Adinolfi, lays out six recommendations for the international community to address digital inclusion and move forward to close the digital divide:

  1. Catalyze increased connectivity
  2. Enable a digital workforce
  3. Expand the reach and usage of digital financial services:
  4. Rationalize investments in information and communication technologies for development
  5. Increase data-driven decision-making
  6. Harness innovation to accelerate development outcomes

Through coordinated efforts in digital inclusion, the international community can make critical progress in its goal to end extreme poverty. As the development community looks towards the new year and building a more resilient world, we must take these recommendations to heart.

To read the article published on Brookings in full, click here.

A Plea to the Development Sector: Ignore Privacy at Your Own Peril

By Josh Woodard, mSTAR Technical Advisor

Next year is the 20th anniversary of Time Magazine’s declaration of the “death of privacy”.

Of course, privacy never died, but it has been under continuous pressure from pretty much everywhere, particularly in the digital realm. Our every action is in essence under constant surveillance from many of the digital platforms that we use every day. The insights digital platforms glean from our personal data and habits serve as a core component of their revenue generation. We are literally trading our privacy in exchange for using their services. This will only get worse as the Internet of Things expands to include ‘always on’ devices that passively listen to conversations—like next generation personal assistants that monitor our households—think of Samsung’s recently released smart refrigerators.

We are literally trading our privacy in exchange for using their services.

While one can make the case that we voluntarily sign up to these services and their terms, the reality is that not all companies are adequately protecting our data. In 2015 alone, almost 500 million identities were exposed by corporate data breaches. A study by PwC found that only 37 percent of companies have a cyber incident response plan. This is all not to mention that a number of technology companies have actively permitted governments to access their clients’ personal data, including Yahoo, which created a backdoor to its email servers for the NSA.

It’s Not Just the Surveillance Economy

Government intrusion into internet privacy is not unique to the United States. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2015 report found that internet freedom declined for the fifth year in a row, and that “governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance over the past year.” China has even tested out a social credit system that collects personal data and assigns people “scores” as citizens. While that may sound benign, just imagine how that data can impact those in society deemed to have a lower social credit score, such as minorities or those with unpopular political opinions. Moreover, cybercrime laws in a number of countries are being used to criminalize certain types of free expression.

One study found that the two most popular passwords are ‘123456’ and ‘password.’

As digital users, we’re certainly not helping ourselves much either. One study found that the two most popular passwords are ‘123456’ and ‘password.’ More than half of people in a recent experiment conducted by German researchers clicked on a link from an unknown sender. It should come as no surprise then that millions of people—including my mother, twice!— are victims of cyberscams annually. Our worst impulses also sometimes manifest themselves in online vigilantism and public shaming that threaten the anonymity of average citizens. One such example is the Saudi student in the United States whose photo went viral on social media in the hours and days after the Boston marathon bombing by people claiming he was a key suspect. The student, it turns out, had nothing to do with the attacks.

Development Actors and Privacy Naiveté

Given this backdrop, one would think that development organizations, which often work with vulnerable populations and are supposed to be serving their interests, would place a higher premium on protecting individual privacy. The reality, however, is that often times, as development organizations, we are completely oblivious to privacy issues. Privacy controls, like informed consent, are often done simply to check a box. Development organizations consider it an extra step to encrypt and store personal data, and frequently share it with others fairly cavalierly. What’s worse is that we too often skim the terms of services we are using to collect people’s information. For example, an NGO in Papua New Guinea once shared with me how they had paid a data collection firm to conduct mobile surveys of their program participants. This NGO did not realize that the terms of the agreement entitled that firm to keep those participants’ contact information and sell it out to third-parties to conduct their own surveys.

All it Takes is a Little Effort

While all of this may seem doom and gloom, protecting people’s privacy is actually not that hard, it just takes effort. Development organizations can start by putting greater emphasis on training their staff on how to handle data privately and securely, along with promoting concepts such as individual sovereignty over personal information. Some fixes are easy, like improving informed consent and data management. The Responsible Data Handbook is a great resource for much of that. And for more complicated issues, like secure data storage and communications, other useful resources, such as Security-in-a-Box, exist.

Protecting people’s privacy is actually not that hard…

Development practitioners should also stay abreast of changes that could impact privacy. In addition to following news reports on technology and privacy, organizations such as Freedom House, Privacy International, Reporters Without Borders, and local netizen groups are all helpful sources of information. The Responsible Data listserv is also a place to learn from and share with fellow development practitioners.

For those who work at the policy level, the EU has been leading the way in developing protections for their citizens’ privacy and control over their personal data. There is much that can be learned from their work. For the practitioners among us, look for digital platforms and service providers that emphasize security, privacy, and transparency. It is also worth keeping an eye on shared ownership platforms, which while not necessarily more secure or private, are at least potentially more accountable to their users (who are also generally their owners) than privately-held companies.

Finally, it is crucial for those of us who care about privacy and individual sovereignty to make their voices heard. Share with colleagues why they should take these issues more seriously and the relatively simple adjustments they can make to do so. Express your concerns about these issues with digital platform providers and local governments to help to make sure that these issues are on their radar. Education is the first step towards creating a culture of smart privacy protection in development, and I’d encourage each of you to start taking that step today.

The following blog post was adapted from a presentation given by the author at USAID’s Next Generation Technologies for Empowering People event in Bangkok, Thailand on November 14-15. It is not meant to be comprehensive in its analysis of this complex topic, but rather to be a starting point for conversation.

Josh Woodard serves as a technical advisor for the mSTAR project, where he oversees technical quality and provides technical direction to several activities in Asia focused on digital development, including digital financial services. He also led mSTAR’s efforts to organize and facilitate the Data for Resilience Summit.