Over 350 telecommunications industry, public-sector and development-community leaders congregated in Johannesburg, South Africa October 13-15 for the 3rd “MobileActive” conference. The annual event focuses on the role of mobile technology in healthcare, economic development, education, human rights and democracy. Vital Wave Consulting analysts at the conference were struck by the number and depth of discussions around privacy and security issues, especially among mobile health (mHealth) professionals. With Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft announcing the formation of a privacy-focused Global Network Initiative this week, and the recent launch of an ambitious multi-partner project to use mobile phones to combat HIV and tuberculosis in South Africa, such discussions were both timely and indicative of a potential opportunity.
The concern among many health professionals and mHealth project participants (including operators, content and service providers), is that, in many developing countries, mobile phones are not necessarily owned or used by a single individual. Low-income users often share phones, leading to legitimate privacy and security concerns. A text-message reminder to take HIV medication, for example, could have social repercussions for the receiver if it is seen by another person. And a farmer who receives a cash transfer from a family member must be certain that the people who borrow his phone cannot access the funds. Such privacy and security issues will become more important as the functionality of mobile phones expands.
There is an opportunity for software developers, handset makers, operators, service providers and content providers to address consumer demand for privacy and security safeguards on mobile devices. Companies that offer safer, more secure hardware, software and services will be rewarded for differentiating their solutions and understanding the concerns of their customers.
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