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A typical Kenyan day involves at least one instance where you will leave your phone number either at a security desk while getting into a building or at a supermarket when you “conveniently” pay for your shopping through your preferred mobile money service.

However, one thing we do not stop to consider is what kind of information one can dig up about us just by using our phone numbers. Forget getting spam messages or even unwarranted calls, someone with your phone number can get a lot of information on you as serial entrepreneur, Al Kags demonstrated.

Over the course of last week, Al Kags narrated a story of how he managed to get quite a lot of information on a lady he was standing behind in line at a supermarket in Nairobi. The unnamed lady was paying for her shopping via M-Pesa and as tradition, she was required to give her phone number to the cashier for confirmation of the payment. From this, Al Kags was able to pick the lady’s number and a quick search on Truecaller revealed her name and email address.

Bordering on being a stalker but motivated by science, Al Kags proceeded to google her name and managed to get the lady’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Through her social media accounts – all which were public, Al Kags was able to know the following information about the lady standing in front of her:

  • Her high school and university education
  • Her current place of residence
  • Her birthday date
  • Her relationship status and the name of her partner
  • Her career information and current employment status
  • Her hobbies and close friends

Stalker or Privacy Issue?

As expected, Kenyans on Twitter were up in arms condemning Al Kags for his actions and even labeling him a creep:

While majority of Kenyans who responded to his tweets failed to acknowledge the underlying issue, Al Kags revealed what the digital age has done to all of us, turned us into real-life data pools. All the information that we share online is intertwined and can be easily traced back to us, especially for people who have not put up measures to protect themselves online.

Whether you find what Al Kags did creepy or scientific, we all should put in more effort to protect our data.

While it might be inevitable to leave our phone number in public, you can limit the extent of information that someone can get through it, just in case they get a hold of it.

The biggest problem here is Truecaller. No, I am not saying you uninstall it, but if you knew what kind of data they get from you, you probably would. However, if you insist on using the service, at least unlink it from your email address and set your information to private, which means those who want to get more information about you through Truecaller will have to first send a request to you to view that information. You will also be notified each time someone looks up your phone number.

The second point applies to all other social media platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. If you cannot outright set your account to private (which I highly recommend you do, for Facebook at least), you should hide some information from the public eye – information such as current location and residence, relationship status and even your work info – also on LinkedIn. If anyone wants to know anything about you, let them request to get it from you.

Convenience is a luxury that we yearn to have, but like all other luxuries of the world, convenience comes at a cost and this is one that cuts across all social classes, the cost of privacy.

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