How Facebook is Using Express Wi-Fi to Collect Kenyans' Data

  • Social networking company Facebook is on the spot yet again after it emerged that a low-cost wi-fi programme launched in Kenya last year is being used to collect citizens' data, widening the scope of their data-mining activities beyond Facebook users.

    As part of the Express Wi-Fi programme, Facebook supplied local Internet Service Provider (ISP) partners with expensive equipment for their access points, and the ISPs in return would brand the wi-fi as 'Powered by Facebook'.

    It has now been revealed in a report by Business Daily that Facebook while sourcing for the equipment from two companies, Ubiquiti and Cambrian, insisted on inserting its own software known as the 'little black box'.

    Ubiquiti, a market leader in access points, initially refused to insert the software, and Facebook took their business to little-known Cambrian who agreed to the plan.

    Faced with major revenue losses, Ubiquiti finally gave in and accepted to insert the 'little black box'.

    Facebook failed to disclose the purpose of the insertion, raising fears on the company's enhanced data-mining capabilities in Kenya.

    When contacted by Kenyans.co.ke, Facebook's local partner Surf Kenya stated that they would issue an elaborate response to the questions raised later in the day.

    The service was launched last year in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, touted as a 'people's internet' that would provide cheap connections to citizens of what are considered developing nations.

    The weak or non-existent data-protection laws in these countries mean it is near impossible to take action on companies like Facebook regardless of how they use data collected from users.

    In Kenya, the programme was rolled out in Nairobi, Eldoret, Naivasha, Nakuru, Mtwapa, Kisumu and Mombasa and has over 1,000 hotspots.

    [caption caption="Mark Zuckerberg addresses journalists in Kenya in 2016"][/caption]

    The company is currently facing a global scandal after it emerged that millions of users' data was obtained without consent by big data firm Cambridge Analytica, a company that worked for, among others, President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jubilee Party in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

    In an exposé that aired on UK TV station Channel 4, CA Managing Director Mark Turnbull stated:  “We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing - so just about every element of this candidate.”

    The company was also responsible for apocalyptic advertisements that sought to paint NASA leader Raila Odinga as one who would destabilize the nation and lead it to ruin if elected President.

    [caption caption="Mark Zuckerberg in Kenya in 2016"][/caption]