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Protecting Customer Privacy In The Mobile World

March 30, 2017

 

Mobile phones have grown beyond being a necessity to becoming extensions of ourselves. Almost everyone owns a mobile handset often with two SIM cards. Where more than 85% of subscribers in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are pre-paid subscribers. Telecom operators sell a huge amount of prepaid talk time through their distribution network comprising of agents, aggregators, online merchants, and paper vouchers.

 

Though these methods to distribute electronic talk time have been very successful and are popular among the telecom operators, they have become a reason for concern everywhere, especially in conservative societies. They expose your mobile number to a very large audience, and you have no control on how they use it!! Alarmed Yet!!??

Usually everyone is concerned about privacy and security, however when it comes to buying mobile talk time we easily share our mobile number with a stranger. Most of the agents as a general practice maintain a copy of such numbers for accounts, and marketing uses.

 

This easy access to mobile numbers can have a lot of implications exposing customers to a wide variety of threats. Identity theft, where the mobile number is a key part of your digital identity. Harassment, especially vulnerable are women. Cold calling fodder, your mobile number may end-up as line item in a shady list sold to your local insurance agent. In a lot of countries, women are especially vulnerable to harassment and misuse of their mobile numbers.

 

One of the most powerful reasons, that digital top-ups are not popular, that I have come across in my experiences has been the harassment of women. This is also the primary reason that they prefer to buy paper vouchers over digital top-ups every time. This means that the mobile operator has to spend more to offer the same talk time value as they are offering through e-top-up, it adds to the overall cost and eventually leads to loss of benefits for the end customer.

 

The problem is so deep rooted that paper vouchers were never eradicated and are very popular in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Gulf Countries, Africa and South East Asia where people do not trust the agent enough to share their mobile numbers.

 

So one would think that the issue is too easy to be solved with technology like QR codes, NFC tags , Etc., however there is a challenge as most of the agents still use feature phones or the customer is not literate enough with latest features on their phones and how to use them. Obviously there is always a lack of time and education with both the seller and the buyer.

 

The suggested solution is to use one of multiple identifiers like account number, customer id, email, and login name in order to identify the customer for e-top up instead of using the actual mobile number. The challenge here is that subscribers do not want to remember any additional numbers, and legacy systems require expensive customisations to incorporate multi identifiers and in most cases some systems are so closely linked to the mobile numbers that authorisation through a secondary identifier is not possible.

 

Using alias or a secondary identifier the above discussed problem can be solved, with little investment in technology and market education by the mobile operators. Instead of providing mobile numbers users can provide their secondary identifier like national id or customer id for purchasing top-up.  This innovation would not only benefit the users by safeguarding their privacy, however will also impact the value of trust in the mobile operator who wish to introduce such service.

 

PayNet is a fully managed and certified on cloud payments platform it provides white labelled and simplified solutions for telecoms, banks and payment service providers. We would be happy to hear your through and suggestions on more approaches which can be introduced.

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