Such responses inevitably raise the question of whether social shaming can be the foundation of a sustainable business strategy. While Opera’s fintech arm reported enormous growth between – tripling best payday loans in Mount Gilead Ohio its revenue to $39.9 million – the company’s credit losses simultaneously expanded, totaling nearly $20 million during that same period. On an individual scale, after landing on the wrong side of their creditors, the users I contacted were inclined either to abandon the app altogether once they could afford to or to simply ignore the harassment and get on with their lives. While many people were familiar with apps that might gently encourage them to eat well or exercise regularly, OKash was different. It was like having a friend post embarrassing photos of them online after they had failed to meet their weight-loss goals.
And yet OKash is only one of many companies around the world using social networks to leverage the power of shame. Last January, a local court in China’s Hubei province used WeChat to release a “map of deadbeat debtors.” In Russia, an online newspaper launched an app called Parking Douche that let citizens upload photos of badly parked cars, which were then fed into pop-up ads on the paper’s website. Before the 2018 US midterm elections, an app called VoteWithMe was released that made it easy for users to check the voting histories of people in their contacts. Last October, in response to more than 300 complaints, the Philippine government summoned the owners of 67 lending apps accused of predatory practices to a public hearing. Twenty-six of those apps were subsequently shut down. And even when an app doesn’t directly contact anybody, it might still use data as collateral: In Nigeria, for instance, the popular lending product Migo will scan a person’s contacts to see if they include known debtors.
Mutiso, who is also one of the founding members of DLAK, worries that, if it goes unregulated much longer, Kenyans may give up on digital credit entirely
These examples might seem extreme, but they’re only exaggerated versions of dynamics that most tech users are already familiar with. We regularly grant apps access to our location, contacts, and other forms of personal information without even realizing it. In the rush toward innovation, as we’ve seen again and again, privacy and social norms often get left by the wayside. And when this happens, you end up with something like OKash.
Kenya lacks laws and norms to navigate this corner of the digital age. The rules, instead, are forming among fintech players, but not fast enough. In , about a dozen digital lenders – not including OKash – created the Digital Lenders Association of Kenya (DLAK) to regulate industry practices. In the association’s code of conduct, members are asked to supervise “the activities of external providers of debt collection services” and investigate “reported cases of infringement of consumer rights.”
Push notifications, messages that recommend products or nudge users to check in, are so embedded in our daily lives that they often seem like mere minor annoyances: the tax we pay for free technology
At stake is the reputation of the entire fintech sector. “We want to be regulated,” Kevin Mutiso, the founder and CEO of Alternative Circle, which offers a micro-loan product called Shika, wrote in an email. “We would [only] need light touch regulations,” he wrote, “minimum capital requirements, customer verification, and submission of positive and negative data to credit bureaus.” Francis Gwer, a researcher on Kenya’s FSD report on fintech, agreed that efforts to regulate have so far fallen short. “For now,” Gwer wrote in an email, “all the proposals to rein in the lending sector are just bandages.”