Data privacy advocates in Zimbabwe have sounded the alarm over the country’s awarding of a contract to build a face recognition technology platform for the state to a private Chinese company. They have indicated that this may compromise facial data privacy and safety for millions of Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe is increasingly leaning on China for technology development. Chinese companies and banks, apart from providing support and equipment for the country’s telecommunications companies, have now secured a contract to build the country’s facial technology platform.

Privacy concerns

However, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter said this week that the Chinese company, Cloudwalk Technology Co, will need to have large amounts of photographic data from the Zimbabwe government so that it can “teach its machinery how to 'read' and differentiate between one Zimbabwean face and another.”

“The gathering of this data and its transfer to Cloudwalk Technology Co. raises privacy and data protection concerns,” said Misa Zimbabwe.

The major concern for data privacy and security advocates in Zimbabwe is centred on the “current lack of laws that regulate the cross-border transfer of Zimbabweans’ data from Zimbabwe to other foreign countries” such as China. Facial recognition technology platforms are being rolled out across the world to help with security and to help curb criminal activity.

“The lack of data transfer laws makes it harder to hold government and foreign entities to account on how they use Zimbabwean data,” further stated Misa Zimbabwe.

Growth for Econet

Apart from the concerns raised about facial recognition data security and safety, there was more to cheer for Zimbabweans after the country’s biggest telecommunivations group, Econet, reported an 18% jump in revenue from Internet and data services to $144,8 million.

“It is expected that about 60% of all data will be driven by mobile video. The content and the video side of the business has to be very strong,” Econet chief finance officer, Roy Chimanikire, said on Thursday.

Chimanikire said the company’s revenue growth strategy going forward will be underpinned by data and video on demand services hence the signing of new video on demand partners. Econet Wireless owned Kwese TV already offers access to Netflix.

This week, Kwese TV signed an arrangement with iflix which will enable its Kwese subscribers to access iflix channels through a mobile application.

Broadcasting

Zimbabwe's telecommucatioms companies have obtained broadcasting licences while the country’s state broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is looking for companies that are cable to undertake live-streaming and Video on Demand services on its behalf.

“ZBC seeks to engage a reputable, experienced and professional Information Communication Technology (ICT) organisation for the provision of live streaming and Video on Demand system,” the broadcaster said in a call for bids during the week.

ZBC runs the country’s sole television station, ZTV, amid calls by campaigners for the opening up of the airwaves. ZTV has been criticised for biased coverage, especially as Zimbabwe braces for elections expected to be held on July 30 2018.


Cover image credit: First Street, Harare, Zimbabwe (2003). Wikimedia Commoms