WhatsApp will no longer change policy for now

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

WhatsApp has announced a three-month delay of a new privacy policy which was planned to go into effect on February 8th following widespread confusion over whether the new policy would mandate data sharing with Facebook.
According to recent WhatsApp communication, the update does not in fact affect data sharing with Facebook with regard to user chats or other profile information; WhatsApp has been at pains to clarify that its update addresses business chats in the event a user converses with a company’s customer service platform through WhatsApp.
In a statement, WhatsApp said, “We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts.”
The messaging platform which is now under the control of a Facebook group of companies will go back to the drawing board to figure out a way to communicate their plans in a way that will hopefully make sense to users. A statement released on Friday went on to say,
“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security work on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”
This comes after a huge number of users have migrated to more privacy-conscious messaging platforms such as Telegram and Signal.
WhatsApp has indicated that the policy won’t be changing when it does come out. The company indicated that the intent of the update is communicating to users that messages with businesses on WhatsApp may be stored on Facebook servers, which necessitates data sharing between the two companies (that data, WhatsApp says, can be used for businesses for advertising, but Facebook does not share it across its apps automatically). Users now have an opportunity to better understand the update and make up their minds about continuing to use the platform or to leave.WhatsApp still intends to release the update on May 15th to coincide with new business chat features.


There’s (almost) nothing you can do about WhatsApp & Facebook

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

The Founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, left Facebook for some of the reasons that are highlighted in the latest WhatsApp policy. He was against the idea of sharing WhatsApp data with Facebook for commercial interests. In his view, sharing user data with Facebook would compromise the privacy of WhatsApp users.

He later co-founded Signal, a messaging app that is considered a gold standard for privacy. It is therefore not surprising that many (100 000 currently) users who care about their privacy have migrated to Signal and other platforms as their messaging apps of choice over the past few days.


MORE  – The new WhatsApp Policy causes a stir


The move by individual users of a 2 billion user strong platform will do little to change this social media giant. What might work is the European approach to protect the privacy of users in the region. WhatsApp is legally bound to not share data with Facebook in the European Region because it’s a contravention of the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This also means that WhatsApp users in 27 European countries will not have their data shared with third parties.

Where does this leave users in the African continent? 

In the short run, there are more privacy conscious messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram. As matters stand, currently there are no perfect alternatives. Signal comes close to being an ideal alternative. As a tool that was co-founded by one of Whats App founders, it is one tool that can come close to what users were hoping to get from WhatsApp. Although Signal does not yet offer all the features currently on WhatsApp, it offers one killer feature that you will not find on WhatsApp in the next few days, privacy.

The reason for this is simply that WhatsApp and Signal have different business models. WhatsApp under FACEBOOK is a commercial entity with profit motive and Signal on the other hand is a non-profit entity which has a mission to develop an open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication. This is a fundamental difference between Signal and other apps which should inform users in choosing apps that will respect their privacy.


In the long run, the matter of privacy should not be left to individuals. GDPR,  a process undertaken by regulators and authorities, in Europe is a classic example of what needs to be done in other parts of the world to protect people from privacy violations. In the African continent the African Union needs to take a stand and protect users in the continent. Ultimately, the matter of privacy needs to form part of global digital and internet law. It should not be possible for Facebook to treat users in Europe differently to users in other parts of the world. Privacy protections should be enjoyed by the global community.

Governments should not watch and fold hands while their citizens’ digital rights are violated by big tech companies. 

A few individuals may be able to protect themselves however privacy landmines are planted everywhere on the internet. Today, WhatsApp and Facebook maybe the poster boys and girls of bigtech misbehaviour, tomorrow it will be another big tech company. It is unfair to expect users in general to protect themselves against technology giants.

Wesley Diphoko is the Fast Company (SA) Editor-In-Chief. You can reach him on Twitter via – @WesleyDiphoko


African Internet Economy expected to contribute $180 Billion by 2025 – Google-IFC e-Conomy Report

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The African continent has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

The African economy has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Some industries may be completely wiped out. At the same time, the African continent has the largest overlooked investment opportunity, the internet economy, with the potential for a profound impact on development. A report published by Google and IFC, the e-Conomy Africa 2020 Report has indicated that there’s a potential to add up to $180 billion to Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.

The projected potential contribution could reach $712 billion by 2050.

Driving this growth is a combination of increased access to faster and better quality Internet connectivity, a rapidly expanding urban population, a growing tech talent pool, a vibrant startup ecosystem, and Africa’s commitment to creating the world’s largest single market under the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Currently, Africa is home to 700,000 developers and venture capital funding for startups has increased year-on-year for the past five years, with a record of $2.02 billion in equity funding raised in 2019, according to Partech Ventures Africa.

“The digital economy can and should change the course of Africa’s history. This is an opportune moment to tap into the power of the continent’s tech startups for much-needed solutions to increase access to education, healthcare, and finance, and ensure a more resilient recovery, making Africa a world leader in digital innovation and beyond,” says Stephanie von Friedeburg, Interim Managing Director, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of IFC.

Digital startups in Africa are driving innovation in fast-growing sectors, including fintech, healthtech, media and entertainment, e-commerce, e-mobility, and e-logistics, contributing to Africa’s growing Internet gross domestic product (iGDP) — defined as the Internet’s contribution to the GDP.

“Google and IFC have created this report to highlight the role the digital startup sector is playing and other factors driving the continent’s growth, to showcase and support the opportunities the continent presents,” says Google Africa director Nitin Gajria.

An analysis within the report, conducted by Accenture, found that in 2020, the continent’s GDP may contribute approximately $115 billion to Africa’s $2.554 trillion GDP (4.5% of total GDP). This is up from $99.7 billion (3.9% of total GDP) in 2019, with the potential to grow as the continent’s economies develop.

Investments in infrastructure, consumption of digital services, public and private investment, and new government policies and regulations will play an important role in supporting Africa’s digital growth. The report notes that investment in digital skills will also need to increase in order to help drive technology usage and continue to grow the continent’s talent pool.

The report also highlights the potential of the internet economy in South Africa. It’s estimated that by 2050 the internet economy will contribute $125 billion. Already there are signs in South Africa that are showing the importance and value of the internet economy.

For example, South Africa has one of the largest markets for online food delivery on the continent, with revenue amounts estimated to be $965 million in 2020 (+35.4% YoY). The market volume is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.7%, bringing the total market value to $1.37 billion by 2024.1.

In terms of skills, the report indicates that South Africa is leading the continent with 120 000 developers who are a very important component in developing the local internet economy. Skills however have been highlighted as one of the few areas that require serious attention if Africa is to achieve its full internet economy potential.

The report points out that the number of African developers is still small when compared with more mature ecosystems around the world. It indicates that Latin America had 2,162,461 developers in 2019, with Brazil (573,400), Mexico (315,300), and Argentina (304,600) leading the region in total numbers.123 And in the state of California alone, the number of software developers is 628,414.

The African internet economy requires African leaders to consider it as an important contributor to the economy. Failure to recognise this important industry will lead to a serious loss of investments and negatively impact the African GDP in the future .


This Nigerian tech startup is the pride of African fintech

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

In the midst of all the gloom in Nigeria, technology entrepreneurs in the region are an inspiration to many other African tech entrepreneurs. When African technology history books are written about financial technology (fintech), Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi will feature prominently. They are both co-founders of Paystack, an African (Nigeria) fintech company that has been acquired by Stripe, one of the leading fintech companies in the world. Their story is unique and inspirational in a tough environment for African tech startup founders. 

In 2015, the company had only $1300 in its bank account when Akinlade applied to be accepted by the elite accelerator startup programme, YCombinator, in the US. This factor alone should have been a hurdle for a Nigerian tech startup to be considered for this programme, but  Akinlade, who was the only founder at the time, was so convinced about the viability of his solution that he applied despite the minimal revenue of the company.

Paystack became the first Nigerian company to be invited to join the famous Y Combinator Accelerator programme. Currently, Paystack has 60 000 customers and has just been acquired for what is believed to be close to $200 000 based on current media reports and people close to the firm.

When Akinlade founded his first startup in 2010, he needed a way to accept payments online, there was no solution locally, he had to work around using Avangate BV and creating accounts in the UK. 5 years later, there was still no easy way. This is what gave birth to Paystack. According to him, global companies would have difficulty in meeting the needs of African merchants. They would have difficulty in developing solutions that address local needs. This is what makes Paystack unique. It focused on solving a local challenge and this is what attracted Stripe to this African fintech startup.

Stripe is considered a company that builds economic infrastructure for the internet for businesses to accept payments and manage their businesses online.

Currently, Stripe is not operational in the African continent as a result local businesses cannot enjoy the benefits that come with Stripe. This is one of the reasons why Paystack acquisition matters for the continent. It creates a platform for Africans to use the tool, in the long run, to make payments and thereby participate in the global internet economy without friction caused by payment infrastructure. The beauty of the Stripe/Paystack deal is that it will enable Stripe to broaden its reach to the continent using a locally built technology. In addition to this, the fact that Paystack is led by Africans as opposed to some Africa based startups that are led by founders from outside the continent is a reason for celebration for many African tech founders. 

The tech industry is known for backing Africa based startups that are led by founders from the US, Europe, and other parts of the world. It is rare to find truly African tech startups rising the way Paystack has risen. 

The Paystack deal is a major development in the African technology ecosystem. It partly means that Africans will participate in the development of the internet financial infrastructure. In a perfect world, it would have been better for Paystack to grow and become a fintech giant of the continent as opposed to being acquired by an American fintech company. This situation is ideal for now, in the future local technology tech ecosystem should work towards developing local giants that are fully funded and owned locally.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine.



SA’s new contact tracing app: A double-edged sword

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

South Africa became one of the first African countries, if not the first, to implement the COVID-19 contact tracing app. Globally, Switzerland was the first country to release an app using Google and Apple’s exposure notification system in May. In health and technology terms, it’s an important step in the fight against COVID-19. Like all things tech which tend to be beneficial, there are also reasons to be vigilant.

Contact tracing is normally accomplished through a manual interview of the infected individuals, conducted by the health authorities. The aim of the interview is to collect contacts the infected individual had with other individuals in the past 14–21 days (identified as the incubation period for COVID-19). The health officials can then use that information to compute a risk score for each of the contacts, based on the context (e.g., indoors/outdoors), duration, and proximity (distance between the contacts). The tricky part is that it is challenging for people to accurately recall each person that they may have met in the last three weeks. The reality is that an infected individual might have infected many persons that they cannot identify, for example, contact with unknown persons standing in a supermarket checkout queue. Another important factor is that many subsequent interviews require a considerable workforce of health officials trained in the art of manual contact tracing. South Africa knows very well about the health workforce challenges. 

In this context, researchers around the world have been focusing on technological solutions to automate the contact tracing process with the aim of quickly and reliably identifying contacts that might be at significant infection risk. The ubiquity of smartphones and their ability to keep track of their location (e.g., via GPS and WiFi), along with their in-built Bluetooth interface allowing communication and proximity detection with nearby smartphones, makes them ideal devices for automated and reliable contact tracing. As a result, many smartphone contact tracing apps have been proposed, with some already deployed. Using the Bluetooth interface these tracing apps automatically collect the contact data of their users – data to be subsequently used in the future event of a user being identified as infected with COVID-19.

Contract tracing apps if adopted by citizens will make a difference in the fight against COVID-19. They are also raising important ethical concerns.

The introduction of contact tracing apps has led to a debate regarding their architecture, data management, efficacy, privacy, and security. Most of these apps claim to be privacy-preserving – meaning that they do not reveal any Personally Identifiable Information (PII), identity, or location information of the contacts without explicit user permission. In countries where such apps were implemented privacy concerns associated with them are one of the factors that influence their adoption. 

Another primary concern by privacy advocates is the extent to which the apps can be re-purposed to track their users, and how the collected data may be used when the current pandemic ends. 

South Africa has chosen an app architecture, built by both Apple and Google, that takes care of most concerns around privacy. The protocol maintains privacy by the following means: The Exposure Notification Bluetooth Specification does not use the location for proximity detection. It strictly uses Bluetooth beaconing to detect proximity. A user’s Rolling Proximity Identifier changes on average every 15 minutes and needs the Temporary Exposure Key to be correlated to a contact. This behavior reduces the risk of privacy loss from broadcasting the identifiers. Proximity identifiers obtained from other devices are processed exclusively on the device. Users decide whether to contribute to exposure notification. If diagnosed with COVID-19, users must provide their consent to share Diagnosis Keys with the server. Users have transparency in their participation in exposure notification. The challenge with such an app is not so much about its current use. No one can argue with the value of using any means possible to save lives. There should be more concern about what could happen in the future. In the absence of proper public consultation and transparency, such a tool can easily be re-purposed for a post-COVID-19 world.

Many may consider such a possibility as highly unlikely. Here’s a possible scenario: Under a less democratic government. In the interest of not repeating the past where most countries were caught off guard and could not easily trace how people were infected, the contact tracing app may have a reason to live longer. Authorities could easily argue that the app will assist in dealing with future similar pandemics and that will make sense. The challenge with this reasoning is that it will mean compromising citizens’ privacy from now going forward. It’s an ethical dilemma that each country has to face. It’s one of the reasons why some countries in Europe have delayed implementing such apps. 

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko


Are universities becoming irrelevant? Tech firms take over in new Covid-19 normal

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The merits of a university education are currently under the microscope. Covid-19 is forcing us to re-evaluate the relevance of universities as developers of a workforce. Yes, they were not just created to develop a workforce, however we are in a different era.

Universities have been tested and they’ve been found wanting. During Covid-19, it will be hard for South African academic institutions to offer value that can enable one to study and earn a qualification that will enable them to get a job.

Many courses by SA universities were never created for an online learning environment, yet they had no choice but to fashion one out of nothing in a matter of weeks. The quality of education during Covid-19 has been shaky. Academic institutions have limited digital means (software and hardware) to enable quality education. At the same time, academic institutions, not just in South Africa, are still charging the same amount of money even though their offering has changed and diminished. While traditional institutions are offering less quality, tech companies are gearing themselves as providers of quality education.

Last month, Google announced the Google Career Certificate for Americans looking for accessible job-training solutions in high-growth industries. These courses offer what people really need now and what they will need to get jobs in future. They don’t offer these courses at the same value as academic institutions. When making the announcement about the courses Google didn’t say how much it would cost to earn a certificate.

However, if it’s anything close to Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate, the cost is quite low, especially compared to universities. There’s also no question that quality will be great judging by the Google products and the calibre of people who work at Google. What is even more important, which tends to be the measuring stick of importance for universities, the Google certificate comes with prestige that no university can match. In case you doubt what this means, here’s a classic example:

According to the World Economic Forum, while data science roles and skills form a relatively small part of the workforce, recent trends indicate that these are currently among the highest in demand roles in the labour market. The demand for data science skills is not limited to the Information Technology sector as data’s importance grows across multiple sectors, including Media and Entertainment, Financial Services and Professional Services. Jobs such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists or Data Scientists, in which data science skills are perhaps most profoundly applicable, are forecasted to be among the most in demand roles across most industries by 2022.

Google is offering a course for Data Analysts. It describes it as a course that will help learners to develop confidence in navigating the data lifecycle using tools and platforms to process, analyse, visualise and gain insights from data. Google has more legitimacy in providing education in data analytics, after all its technology is responsible for collection and analysis of data. Who better to offer a course in Data Analytics?

This indicates the shift that is likely to happen in terms of who qualifies to offer education for some courses that will matter in the future. Traditional universities cannot legitimately offer the same course with the same depth as Google or another tech company with authority in the field being taught.

Content and curriculum is one part of the equation which is critical, the other critical part of the equation is infrastructure. In this regard Google and other tech companies beat universities hands down. Google has become the default learning management system for education institutions. Even in cases where some education institutions have not yet adopted Google infrastructure, they are likely to do so in the future. Current adoption of Google technology in education institutions points to a future where most academic institutions rely on Google as opposed to buildings to offer education.This situation just strengthens the position of tech in the education sector. There are few universities in South Africa that can confidently refuse the technology offering by Google. The tech giant describes its edu products as solutions that create the powerful computing infrastructure that keeps today’s higher ed communities humming. It claims researchers can speed up analysis from days to minutes, working seamlessly across departments and data sets. Students can collaborate easily and securely across disciplines and campuses.

None of this suggests that a private tech company is best placed to offer education for society. The point is simply that they have better quality tools and know more about what will matter in the future than current institutions. It is therefore inevitable that tech companies are coming for higher education and there’s little that academic institutions can do about it.

This is a situation that requires remodelling of education. Traditional universities are no longer viable places to offer education that will matter in the future. They also lack the necessary infrastructure to remain relevant during these tough times. Tech companies are likely to replace them and that is fine in the short run – however, in the long run a different model of education will have to be developed.


Why FACEBOOK wants your Avatar

BY Wesley Diphoko 4 MINUTE READ

If you are on Facebook you probably have your own Avatar by now. If not, you will probably have one soon. If you are not familiar with them, they are a cartoon-like version of yourself on Facebook. One of South Africa’s gadget and technology magazines has declared them as unnecessary. The writer went on to say they are dumb. This is far from the truth, here are key reasons why they matter at least for FACEBOOK.

In 2014 Facebook announced that it had reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion. 

Why would a social networking company pay so much money for a hardware company? 

At the time Oculus was a leader in immersive virtual reality technology and it had already built strong interest among developers. In its announcement about the acquisition, Facebook mentioned that the plan was to extend Oculus’ existing advantage in gaming to new verticals, including communications, media and entertainment, education, and other areas. The statement went on to emphasise that given these broad potential applications, virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform. Facebook has since struggled to get market traction beyond a niche audience because of the hefty price of VR headsets and the amount of technology required to use them.

Enter Facebook Horizon, a virtual reality sandbox universe where you can build your own environments and games, play and socialize with friends, or just explore the user-generated landscapes. This is Facebook’s take on Second Life, another virtual reality social network.

The social platform was  launched in closed beta this year, providing a space for collaborative, shareable creations, virtual exploration and multiplayer gaming.

Back in 2017, Zuckerberg said that the company wanted to “get a billion people in virtual reality. This is where your avatar comes in. Facebook will do everything in its power to get a billion users for Facebook Horizon and existing users of Facebook can easily make this a reality. Your avatar is also more important for other key reasons.

One of the key features within Facebook Horizon is commerce. Users will be able to buy and pay for services on the virtual social platform. Users for instance will be able to attend virtual events within the virtual space and to do this they will have to pay. Some of the items that you will buy will be critical for the offline world as well, education (e-learning) is one example that comes to mind. 

Facebook is also working on new kinds of social things, from new forms of business cards to new kinds of virtual games you will play in the park with your friends. All of these require having everyone using the real-world identity. The social graph you have on Facebook (or its other properties like Whatsapp, Instagram, Messenger, etc) is hugely important and will be more so by 2025 as XR glasses come along, enabling new ways to work together and play.

Recently Facebook has informed current users of Oculus headsets that they need to have Facebook accounts or identities in order to continue using the headsets. 

Starting later this year, you’ll only be able to sign up for an Oculus account through Facebook. If you already have an account, you’ll be prompted to permanently merge your account. If you don’t, you’ll be able to use the headset normally until 2023, at which point official support will end. Old headsets using non-linked accounts will still work, but some games and apps may no longer function. Developers can keep using an unlinked developer account without social functionality. In simple terms, your Facebook identity has become the most important item in the development of future products on Facebook. Your Facebook avatar will be your key identity going forward to play on the Facebook virtual world. Without it, you cannot become a citizen of the Facebook virtual world.

In other words, Facebook is angling to become the WeChat of the West, where everything you do in the ever-expanding digital world can be accessed through its platform.

Facebook is moving users into its virtual world, known as Facebook Horizon. As part of this process, the global social network is slowly familiarising its users with its social virtual world. Before you know it you will be part of the Facebook virtual social network.

Broadly speaking, we are undergoing a move towards the fourth phase of computing, known as Spatial computing. Users of technology have undergone 3 major phases in the evolution of computing. The first one had to do with the beginning of personal computing and the interface being text-based. The second phase, graphics, and color capabilities were later included. Movement and mobility were added with the third phase in the form of mobile phones.

As indicated, we are now moving towards the fourth phase. This phase is mainly inspired by the transition from physical to virtual space. Spatial Computing comprises all software and hardware technologies that enable humans, virtual beings, or robots to move through real or virtual worlds, and includes Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, Augmented Reality (AR), VR, Sensor Technology, and Automated Vehicles. This phase in the evolution of technology will impact mainly the following industries: Transportation; Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT); Manufacturing; Retail; Healthcare; Finance; and Education. 

We are at the early stages of moving towards this fourth phase of computing. Avatars are conscientising users with this new world of computing. It will be difficult to avoid for those concerned about privacy. Facebook will not be alone in this game. Other leading tech giants are also working on their own VR glasses which will be key as we move towards the fourth phase of computing. Apple is reportedly working on one, Microsoft Hololens is just another tool that will form part of this transition. Soon Facebook will reveal the real strategy behind the Avatars that are popping everywhere. For now, understand that Avatars are not just nice cartoons version of yourself or unnecessary dumb idea, they are your identity on the social virtual reality world.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko


The end of global internet is coming, thanks to US/China tech war

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The Internet was supposed to enable globalisation. It has tried and in the process enabled US tech companies to have a global presence. China on the other hand built its own version of the internet which is partly the reason why there are global tech giants from China.

Currently, the US is threatened by Chinese technology innovations. To catch up, the US is banning Chinese technologies. As a result of a technology cold war between the US and China, we are likely to see the emergence of a splinternet or the balkanization of the internet along national boundaries. If the current scenario continues, we are likely to see a lesser globalised internet.

The Russians have been preparing for the splinternet. Last year, Russia shut down the global internet to test the RuNet programme and assess its ability to exist without the need to use the global internet. If the splinternet were to become a reality China and Russia would still be able to carry on with little interruption. Other parts of the world would need to figure out a way of working with nations that have a stronger internet infrastructure. It would be a choice between the US, China, or Russia. All of these nations have value systems that can be embraced and some that should not. 

The bigger question for Africa is the following: what will Africa do in the case of the splinternet. Africa will have no choice but to rely on the internet built for other nations or be internet-less.

The likelihood of using other nation’s internet would mean Africa would forever be dominated by products built elsewhere for other nations. Take WhatsApp, Telegram, and WeChat as examples. Although beneficial, whenever Africans use these products they are either using an American, Russian, or Chinese product respectively. Whatever these nations decide about these products Africa will need to agree. Africa has no way of making rules based on its values, it just uses these products and agrees to everything decided upon by other nations. To understand the meaning of this scenario you have to look at what is happening to TikTok. The US feels that a Chinese product (Tik Tok) is violating its principles and potentially accessing its secrets and therefore poses national security. 

In response, the US plans to ban the Chinese product and in the process, the US in the form of Facebook manages to get its own business (Instagram) to clone (copy) the other Chinese product (TikTok) while it’s forcing TikTok (Chinese) to sell its company to an American company.

Whether you agree or disagree with the US and its approach the reality is that the US can take a stand on the matter and still not suffer the consequences of closing down TikTok because they have alternative products. The same cannot be said about Africa.

The African continent may disagree with how Facebook is abusing its dominance and it can do nothing (although it should) about such violations.

A splintered internet is not desirable however it may be the only way going forward. When such a scenario arises Africa will have to be ready to stand on its own two feet to still have the technology engine of modern society. To get to that point may sound impossible for Africa however it’s possible. In 1999, the Chinese tech giant Alibaba was just a few months old. 

The state of the Chinese internet economy was in its infancy. Today, China has global tech giants that include Alibaba that commands global respect. China can exist without the US in tech terms and still survive. Africa can build its tech giants. In the short run, it may mean reliance on others to have internet independence in the long term. The days of the global internet are coming to an end. Africa needs to build now or become an internet colony.


We need more successful Tech Startups founded by Women

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

There’s no shortage of programmes that are aimed at addressing the shortage of women in the technology industry. Despite the skills development interventions the number of successful women technology startup founders is very limited. Clearly, whatever is done to address this challenge is not significantly changing the status quo.

It is easy to once in a while when it’s the flavour of the month to create an impression that there’s progress. The reality is that the tech industry has failed to create  a conducive environment for all to contribute in this important industry. As a result of this scenario, the industry is loosing from the lack of  diversity of views and approaches that would have added value to innovation. Lack of diversity in tech is probably one of the reasons why there’s slow pace of innovation. The nature of technology that we use has been blamed for many challenges in society which could have been avoided if the voice of women were part of decision making. Think the impact of devices on children.

History tells us that women  can add significant value in technology and innovation. We know this because the first computer programmer, Augusta Ada Lovelace, was a woman. Her work was both profound and inspirational. It gave glimpse to a future in which machines would become partners of the human imagination. She perceived how the processing power of a calculating machine could be used on any form of information. 

We also know that early space mission was enabled by women who calculated the precise trajectories that would let Apollo 11 land on the moon in 1969 and, after Neil Armstrong’s history-making moonwalk, let it return to Earth.

Historical records show us that when women contributes in technology their impact is significant. Imagine if technology startups were also led by women.

There’s no question about the value that women can bring on the table. Even with so much that women can offer we still don’t see them leading successful technology startups. 

There’s a need therefore to review current efforts that are aimed at changing the status quo in tech industry. If we are  to see more successful women tech startup founders something more impactful will have to be done. Clearly there are hurdles and there’s no better time to do something about whatever is standing in the way of getting more innovative minds in tech. 

Education will play a significant role in channeling more young women to consider technology as a field of choice. Role modelling by other successful women in tech will serve as an inspiration. In addition to these interventions, funding of women tech startups will have a far more important role in changing the status quo. 

Technologies of the past industrial revolutions were built mainly by a few homogeneous group. It has brought us progress as well as significant problems. The success of the next industrial revolution will depend on the diversity of views and approaches. 

In the future, when we reflect on the role of women in society there should be more successful women technology startup founders. The technology startup ecosystem will have to conduct a serious self introspection if we are to change the current status quo.


Why African tech start-ups should worry about big tech

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

If there was ever a doubt about the abuse of power by big tech companies, their appearance in front of the US Congress has ended such doubts about the abusive nature of these companies. Revelations by the long-running antitrust investigation show that everyone in business who has been dealing with big tech should be concerned. African Tech startups with a potential for global reach should be more concerned. 

It is almost impossible to operate in the tech space and reach a global market without using either the Apple App Store, Amazon AWS, and other platforms owned by big tech companies.

One factor that stood out during the hearings is that there’s unequal treatment of companies on the App Store by Apple. One document that was presented during the hearings showed how Amazon Prime was paying fewer fees to Apple for its presence on the App store. This is just one example that shows unfair treatment by the global giant, Apple. If a similar service by an African startup were to exist on the App store it would have a lesser chance of success in terms of revenue earned on the App store.

Acquisitions are another area that should concern many African tech startups. Naturally being acquired by a global tech company excites tech founders who dream of scaling their products. Based on recent revelations and what has been known about big tech companies, African tech founders should adopt a different view of acquisitions by big tech companies.

The story of how and why Facebook acquired Instagram should serve as a lesson for many who dream of being acquired by big tech companies.

It’s a known fact that Kevin Systrom, Instagram founder, had a tough time within Facebook after the app was acquired. We now know that the strategy was always about killing the enemy by acquisition. The same happened to WhatsApp. Facebook is currently working on integrating all these acquired products under Facebook while they maintain their identity. It’s also important to note that the founders of both WhatsApp and Instagram are no longer within Facebook and left the company extremely unhappy. The lesson here is that being acquired by big tech is not always what it looks like. The behaviour of big tech companies is something that should not only concern leading tech startups. Even small guys who are just trying to sell a unique product on Amazon should be concerned. The testimony about Amazon showed how the tech company cannibalizes the very entrepreneurs that sell their products on Amazon by creating similar goods thereby competing or removing them completely. The moral of the story here is that Africa should figure out a way to stand on its own. Reliance on global tech platforms will not lead to global tech entities that are Africa owned. 

As long as big tech continues on this trajectory every promising startup will be gobbled and stopped on its tracks by global giants.

The big tech is currently under scrutiny not just in the US. Recently regulators in Australia have accused Alphabet’s Google of misleading consumers to get permission for use of their personal data for targeted advertising, seeking a fine “in the millions. In Africa, however, big tech has been enjoying a free ride. 

As African regulators are doing nothing about big tech, African tech startups should find ways of protecting themselves against falls acquisitions and cloning by big tech.