12 July 2014

Ethiopia: Consumer Protection?

These past few days I have done what most of us regularly do: I added money on my mobile phone and used it as I usually do.

I am not a text-person, I like to call and communicate the information directly. I also use the 3G speed Internet regularly to check my email, twitter and other applications. But this past week, the credit on my phone has been lasting a lot less than it did before. In fact, the 100 birr credit I bought was mysteriously depleted in one day, although all I did was make one local phone call for less than 10 minutes. I was happy to know that I am not the only one experiencing this, people I complained to admitted to facing the same issue of the credits on their mobile phones depleting at a much faster rate than usual. We all also experienced irregularities while sending money to other mobile phones, although the amount is deducted from our credits, the recipients never receive it.

This is quite problematic and it led me to ask some basic questions: why is this happening? And where do I go to complain about this? How do I verify these transactions? Let it be known that I am not an expert in the field of telecommunications or laws related to it, but I am an everyday consumer who is feeling cheated.

This experience made me realize that there is absolutely no transparency when it comes to pre-paid mobile phones. Subscribers to pre-paid phones do not have access to details of their phone records and rely on an operating system based on "trust". We "trust" that the correct amount is being charged when we make calls, we "trust" that we are not being overcharged for the services we are using. I don't know about you, but after loosing a few hundreds of birr, I'm over this whole "trust" system and I demand to see my phone records.

As consumers we should feel entitled to certain rights especially when it comes to buying services. There is an institution responsible for setting and monitoring quality of goods and services in Ethiopia, it is known as the National Quality Infrastructure. It sets national standards, creates awareness among consumers, investigates service providers and producers and so on, all with the aim of protecting consumers. With this in mind, it should be easy for this consumer protection agency to investigate what is currently happening at ethio telecom considering that it's the only telecommunications service provider in the country.

But a financial investigation isn't the only thing that I'm worried about with regards to ethio telecom, I am also concerned about my personal information. Many, if not all, of us receive advertisement text messages whether it's by government organizations or private entities. Honestly speaking, there have been days I have received more texts from these entities I do not know than actual friends.

This begs the question: to what extent is our personal information kept secret? ethio telecom has our personal information including name, age, gender among others. If we are receiving these mass texts it is because our service provider has sold the information to these third parties. Now the question is why don't we, as consumers, have the right to stop our personal information from being sold to third parties?

In this day and age where data is an extremely valuable commodity, how can we protect ourselves and our personal data from being sold to the highest bidder? This trend of ethio telecom making our data readily available for a fee without the consent of the consumer is a scary trend that must be stopped. It is high time that the National Quality Infrastructure takes a serious look at these practices and sets some clear boundaries protecting us from this abuse. I no longer want to receive advertisement text from entities that aren't ethio telecom, nor do I want my credit to "mysteriously" deplete. I would like to be able to ask questions and have a clear recourse when faced with such "irregularties" because I am paying for this service and that should mean something.

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