My data my choice my way

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My data my choice my way
Presenter(s) Chenai Chair
Title(s) Ms
Organization(s) Research ICT Africa
Project(s) Beyond Access Studies
Country(ies) Zimbabwe
Social media @RIAnetwork, @chenaichair
2017 theme Internet Freedom: Present and Future

Knowing that affordability is one of the primary barriers to Internet access and particular optimal use, in November 2016 Research ICT Africa, with identified country partners, conducted focus groups in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda to obtain qualitative information that reflects the perceptions of female and male internet users, new users, and non-internet users - from different (urban and rural) locations. The study focused on how people used the internet when they had their data subsidised, and when it was not subsidised. It also looked at the ways in which people made use of the internet and barriers for internet and non-internet users.

By sharing this research, we hope to prompt conversations on how internet freedom may be achieved when we are aware of the way in which users from different demographics access and use it and the specific challenges they face. 
Format Conversation
Target Groups Academica, civil society, policy makers, service providers
Length 1 hours
Skill Level Introductory
Language English


Session Outputs

Session focused on presenter's research on data on personal usage of the internet from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Rwanda.

Background & Methodology

Started as an investigation of zero-rating practices and user experiences. Not just about how to get people online but also better strategies on access that account for how people use the internet. Rural/peri-urban/urban stratification of data and gender aggregation.

Research Findings

Various reasons for people to use the internet. The internet is about Google: search from there and go for first topic or specialize their search terms. Cheaper to communicate on a social media network or messaging app rather than invest in SMS or calls. Also, context-specific reasons: students researching, parents helping their kids with homework, managers and employees planning shifts.

Many would buy smaller data bundles, which net-costs more per month than longer-term bundles but is easier to afford for most people. Various other means of saving money in purchasing data.

On zero-rating, people do see it but are not using it to access the internet for the first time. More about topping-up on pre-existing plans and data use practices. "Those free data and what you call it, the internet shark swallows it very quickly." - quote from a focus group respondent.

For free wifi, many are only seeing a regular impact in urban neighborhoods, around fast food restaurants and pubs. Interestingly, these projects also have gendered consequences. Many women don't want to be going into pubs and other establishments to access the internet..

Other problems. No roll over on available data were are problem. Many women chose to not go online because of perceptions about bad information. [This definition of "bad" was discussed later in the session: pornographic/sexual content, content for LGBTQIA+ people, catfishing/scams, and particularly in Nigeria, false information.] Interest from parents in controlling available information on the internet as well, mostly in the name of preserving the quality of information available to children.

Gender dynamics still played a large part in controlling women's access to internet, particularly in domestic contexts, and also gender-imposed caring responsibilities to the family and household.

Open Discussion

Are consumers aware of their rights and the idea that maybe their data should roll over, as they have paid for it? Not something that came out of the research. It's just recognized that the data disappears: the justifications and international context of these practices were not discussed in detail. Many do not phrase these as consumer issues. People just accept what is made available by mobile network operators and work with it. Not about changing the system but working around the system.

Commercial wifi hotspots were more popular than government wifi hotspots, which are limited to Rwanda and South Africa, really. The gender difference on participation in free wifi really emerged in Kenya but not as much in other countries.

Limited capacity to devote to campaigning and understanding the politics of data bundles beyond just managing what's possible within the market as it exists, rather than changing the market, give that many focus on other priorities and needs, as well.

Operators having more interest in offering their smaller, service-specific bundles rather than zero-rating. Many operators just pass the buck to the regulator to release more spectrum to improve their quality of service.

Data protection and surveillance were not a concern issue for them as new internet users. More came from surveillance within a personal community and peer pressure. Many are not worried about what the government would see, but more concerned about family and people in their community and what they would see. A participant reaffirmed this aspect as true within their experience and in their country.

Next Steps

How do we engage users in rights users?

  • Go into economic rights as a starting point for many, as many are just looking for a connection. The others (political and civil rights online) come as secondary for many users across the continent.
  • Pricing transparency for mobile data, much as many will have for other services that they use. (E.g., "you've use X amount of data for Y price.")

Other emerging questions:

  • Whose role is it to educate on user rights?
  • Can we build user rights education knowing what matters to users?
  • What evidence do we need to assess rights issues?

Additional Notes

Relevant Resources

Internet use barriers and user strategies: perspectives from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda, [1].

Contributors

Chenai Chair (@chenaichair), Research ICT Africa, researchictafrica.net.