Friday, July 29, 2011

The social nature of security and Haiti’s mobile money

IMTFI Researcher Erin Taylor blogs about the social nature of security and Haiti's mobile money.

In a recent webinar hosted by USAID, Professor Bill Maurer from the IMTFI argued that phone sharing practices call into question how we judge mobile banking security. Mobile banking is ostensibly secure because each account is linked to the user’s SIM card, which has an internationally unique number. Since one mobile money account equals one SIM card and one user, then it should be fairly straightforward to keep track of who is sending money, how much, and to whom.
However, people’s relationships with mobile technology aren’t always as straightforward as we might think. As Maurer points out, there are many places in the developing world where one phone does not necessarily equal one owner. A family may share a single mobile phone, or a village may have just one person who owns a phone and rents it out to people when they want to use it. With mobile banking, this person may become an informal money transfer agent, making a profit out of sending cash through her own account. Alternatively, a person may have no phone, but own multiple SIM cards and potentially multiple mobile money accounts, thus complicating the ownership formula. There are yet other cases where people own multiple phones and multiple SIM cards in order to take advantage of differential pricing structures. Maurer argues that the social nature of phone use needs to be taken into account when considering mobile banking security.

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