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January 16, 2024

How safe is the personal data on Nigeria’s SGBV apps

By Nigerian Journalist Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi. First published in NewsWireNGR.

Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi examined the security protocols implemented in the Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) apps, which certain Nigerians have utilised to report incidents involving themselves or their family members.

Despite numerous campaigns such as radio, social media, and on-the-ground advocacy by many rights and women’s groups advocating for a policy that favours survivors and families of victims, pointing accusing fingers at survivors of SGBV has continued to push survivors away from naming their abusers.

However, one might wonder how safe the information of GBV app users in Nigeria is. Gender-based violence is such a sensitive issue that not all survivors would gladly come forward to shame their abusers despite the harm done because, in most cases, their abusers are relatives, trusted, and well-respected members of society.

Many people do not want to be known as “that girl who was raped” or “that woman whose husband frequently beats her.” Although men are victims of gender-based violence, women’s issues are more prevalent.

Mobile applications such as Smart RR and Mobile Gender are just a couple of the ones, though, that are assisting in lessening GBV survivors’ social stigma. Although these apps may help SGBV survivors access the justice and care they deserve, many people have ignored concerns about the apps’ users’ privacy. The reporter looked at the app’s features and content and asked the founders how they felt about the security of their data while using apps.

Checking the Data privacy on Smart Reporting Referral (Smart RR) Smart Reporting Referral (Smart RR) is a technology-based mobile app that allows survivors and service providers in Northern Nigeria to report and refer cases. Findings by the reporter while examining the functions of the app show that not all service providers are available in all the northern states.

The reporter’s examination of the application during usage would not provide insight into whether the data provided by users is viewed by individuals on the back end, given that users are unaware of the actions taken with the information. App users have the ability to capture screenshots of their conversations and engage in end-to-end encrypted chats.

However, Big Family 360, the developer of Smart RR, stated that the user data is used to improve Smart RR’s services and will not be shared.

The information collected during registration includes name, email, address, phone number, sexual orientation, and precise location; however, while this data is collected over a secure connection, the developer does not allow users to request that the data be deleted. Apple and Android apps claim that they have yet to verify information about the security of users’ data.

Big Family 360 said, “The app does use third-party services that may collect information used to identify you. “We want to inform you that whenever you use our service, in a case of an error in the app, we collect data and information (through third-party products) on your phone called Log Data.

“We do not knowingly collect personal information from children under 13 years of age. In the case we discover that a child under 13 has provided us with personal information, we immediately delete this from our servers,” the developer added as part of its app privacy statement, as seen on the Apple App Store and the Android Play Store.

Aside from reporting cases, other important features of the Smart RR include period tracking for people who cannot remember their last period, information about different types of gender-based violence, and SOS emergency calls.

The reporter did not test the SOS emergency to see how it works to allow others in deer need to make a quick call in the event of an emergency. However, the reporter noted that pressing the emergency call button would require the user to enter the name of the incident’s state.

Dirug Samuel, founder of Smart RR, told the reporter that the data protection policy of Smart RR is so strong that their backend operators can only see characters and not the names of people and conversations.

Samuel explained, “When a survivor reports a case, it goes straight to the service provider’s email and as a text message that indicates a case has been reported. “It only shows the case file name, location, and phone number, and the service provider takes over it.”

Campus Pal

In 2022, the Gender Mobile Initiative launched Campus Pal, a student-focused app that allows students to report sexual and gender-based misconduct. According to the app’s creator, Barrister Wunnimi, students or witnesses of SGBV can choose to report cases anonymously or reveal their identities.

Wunnimi said, “When you disclose your identity, we ensure the victims are safe and shielded from backlash as a result of the disclosure.

According to her, Gender Mobile has invested heavily in digital securities software on the
Campus Pal app to encrypt discussions to protect users’ data.

“There is an in-house technology team that ensures platforms are secured and consistently exposed to capacity struggles. where they [team] can also ensure that issues on cybersecurity struggles are resolved,” Wunnimi added.

Although Gender Mobile is making efforts to get across all institutions to sign up on the app for students to report SGBV, so far only 23 institutions have partnered and signed with Campus out of 102 institutions the organisations have been talking to about the importance of the app.

While Campus Pal serves as an accountability partner to institutions, the organiser’s eyes have not gone out of its aim to provide support for survivors and targets of SGBV. Wunnimi said: “But we also align ourselves with the interests of the survivors to understand what the survivor wants, and if what the survivor wants is legal justice.

“Then, we pursue legal justice, and if the school has an internal mechanism, we work with the school to ensure they activate the school’s internal mechanism so that we ensure the perpetrator is brought to book, and in a case where the survivor is not interested in legal justice, we provide other services like counselling,” Wunnimi explained.

Checking the Data protection of Campus Pal

While the reporter cannot independently verify Campus Pal’s end-to-end encryption because the backend is not visible, a critical check on the Apple and Android app stores revealed that Campus Apple collects data such as names, addresses, user names, and phone numbers, according to information provided by the developer of Gender Mobile. Still, both application stores said they have not verified the encryption.

A check on the app’s privacy on Apple Store reads: “The data is only used for app functionality, personalisation, or analytics, and not to track you across apps or websites or show you advertisements.

The reporter downloaded Campus Pal, and upon opening, the app requested to send me a notification; however, it is an optional decision to agree or decline. The second step is to sign up, which requires the user to enter their name, email address, phone number, password, and referral, if any.

One can choose to sign up with their Google account. However, if you click to use your Google account, a notification will appear asking for permission before signing in'.

Chioma Agwuegbo, said these private SGBV apps have been more active than that of the apps built by government in the past. “One thing is to get people to report cases, and the other is to ensure something has been done when these cases are reported.”

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