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Outraged esewa users have expressed their insecurity and disapproval towards esewa on Twitter and Facebook by using #boycottesewa. They said they were uninstalling the eSewa app from their mobile phones and share the deletion snapshot in their social network sites.
eSewa is no doubt the popular and pioneer digital payment service provider in Nepal. This is what we can also infer from the latest query on our Facebook page.
So all of a sudden, what is the reason behind the boycott trend?
Asgar Ali, the co-owner of an IT company, F1 soft technologies and the IT consultant of the Prime Minister, fell into controversy after his IT company was blamed for illegally removing news from an online news portal called Kathmandu Press. Following the controversy, ShiranTech, the subsidiary of F1soft has accepted the claims of removing the news without the permission of the Kathmandu Press news portal.
On Thursday night, the CEO of ShiranTech, Subash Sharma, issued a dispatch via twitter on the behalf of the company. It says that the technical team of ShiranTech accessed the news portal of Kathmandu Press and removed a piece of news calling it misinformation.
The controversial news accuses PM KP Oli’s IT consultant Asgar Ali, Kshitiz, the son of Prime Minister’s chief advisor Bishnu Rimal, and Swaraj, the son of Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel of alleged corruption while purchasing medical equipment from China. It is said that following the accusation, Bishwas Dhakal, the co-founder of F1 soft company, requested Kathmandu Press to remove the news. But upon denial, Shiran Technologies deleted the news on its own, from the backend.
we cannot trust you anymore…#BoycottEsewa
— iamrjsiddharth (@iamrjsiddharth) April 4, 2020
Shiran Technologies is the developer of the Kathmandu press news portal while F1 soft company is the parent company of Shiran tech. F1 soft company is known for introducing eSewa, which is the pioneer online payment system in Nepal.
Shirantech, having access to the backend of the news portal misused access by invading without authority. This incident has raised a number of doubts on Asgar Ali, Bishwas Dhakal, and the online security system in Nepal, although they apologized on the matter. They also claim the blunder happened due to misinformation among them.
Kathmandupress also released a press statement citing the unauthorized removal of the news by the Shirantech as a means to control the press and curtail the constitution-guaranteed press freedom rights. Later they republished the news, as it was before.
Here is the Kathmandupress’s press release.
Federation of Nepali journalists stated in a dispatch that unauthorized removal of news from a news portal is a cybercrime, data privacy invasion, and violation of press freedom. They demanded to take strict actions against such criminal acts. Similarly, Press Union, Nepali Editors, Nepal Engineers Association Executive members have released a statement for their concern over the unauthorized removal of the news article and actions against the involved.
As soon as the news of online intrusion went viral on social media, people are concerned about the security of their data present in a digital wallet, eSewa, and their integrated bank details.
Esewa carries the data of almost 21 lakhs users. People have doubts if their data and money will be safe in the eSewa wallet after finding out that the founders are allegedly involved in cybercrime. Not forgetting, Fonepay, another company of F1soft which is used mainly for merchant payments.
— Pankaz Acharya (@acharyapankazz) April 2, 2020
People are also irked after discovering the process to delete their accounts and information. They could do so only by filing a formal request to the company and after making their balance zero.
I told eSewa to delete my account but they sent a lengthy explanation and have asked me to make the account with zero balance and again give a valid reason. Seriously?
— Arun Budhathoki (@arunbudhathoki) April 3, 2020
Similarly, they are worried about the data from mobile banking apps, that are mostly developed by Shirantech, a subsidiary of F1 Soft. People are having trust issues with eSewa, Shirantech, and the whole F1soft subsidiaries.
F1Soft tampered its customer’s website to delete news written against PMO. They own e-sewa, and almost all banking apps in Nepal, therefore our information too can be easily compromised.
As a consumer what options do we have?#boycottEsewa
— aashutosh (@itsmeashutosh43) April 2, 2020
People fear data breaching and data manipulation of confidential and sensitive data. With Ali’s outreach to governmental data, people also fear the possibility of its misuse. As per Nagariknews, they include some of the sensitive data meant to use for the upcoming e-governance application called Nagarik Adhikar app.
Following the trend and the incident, eSewa’s ratings in google play store have decreased from 4.3 to 3.7 as of April 5, 2020. As people were raged with the development, they might have given single star reviews to lower the overall rantings.
Here are some of the viewpoints we have collected so far.
Some people opined that this is the result of the appointment of a businessman to an IT expert/consultant to the Prime Minister/Government. Because this is not the first time that he ran into controversy. It is also quite noteworthy that many news portals (Nagariknews, Ratopati) have been following the development closely while others keep mum with no coverage so far (Onlinekhabar, Thehimalayantimes).
We don’t know if the claims mentioned in the news by Kathmandu Press news portal are true or not as it is yet to be investigated and verified. But, the violation of the constitutional right to Press freedom has questioned the security of the online platforms in Nepal.
— Rising Pen (@RisingPen) April 2, 2020
After this incident, it is now clear that our data is not fully protected if it is not in the right hands. There is a high risk of data loss, which can be in the form of identity theft, data manipulation, or data breach. If the Nepal Government does not take strong actions towards the protection of data, constant distress will harm the citizens mentally. Only limited people should be given access to data of high confidentiality and sensitivity.
As per the constitution of Nepal, all citizens in people have a right to freedom of speech. So it is their right to speak, disagree or clarify the truth but they do not have the right to invade other’s data. It violates the Nepal Cyber Law.
#boycottESEWA And F1Soft for misusing authority. for curbing freedom of expression. for breaking trust. for immoral exploitation of expertise gap.
— वीर विक्रम महादेव (@sararararahawaa) April 2, 2020
Instead of choosing an ethical or a legal process to handle the situation, violating the right to privacy is not acceptable. If the collected data in their server be used for other purposes then it is a straight violation of the Individual Privacy Act 2018. Such a criminal act just intensifies the doubts on government authorities and creates trust issues.
Accusing someone in an online media platform without legit proof or evidence can be a case of defamation. An online media platform should follow the media’s code of conduct while publishing news. Accusing out of suspicion can damage a person’s social image. Such an act can be held as a libelous act in the Nepal Cyber Law.
As there were avenues for going legal action against the news portal (if it was for defamation), but the problem is that they went the other way no matter what they claim or apologize later.
While most of the people express their dissent over eSewa due to the owner’s action, some people have asserted that boycotting is not the solution. They express, “eSewa being a company has its own set of rules and guidelines that it will abide by and even follow the NRB policies for the data privacy and security”.
Some of them also wrote, “Doing the boycott will be a disregard for the contributions they have made to bring digital payment to this state”.
Here is a reply from eSewa to soothe one of its customers over the data concern.
We would like to assure you that eSewa puts your pricacy, data and security at utmost priority. We are a socially reponsible and regulated financial institution that has proper compliance mechanisms, security protocols to ensure the safety of your privacy and information. Regarding the news claim, there is not even a remote connection of any sort to eSewa and its operation.
In expressing his dissatisfaction over the drastic reduction of eSewa ratings recently, Mr. Basanta asserts that “If a person makes a mistake (or commits a crime), we need to punish the person as per the law, instead of giving bad reviews to the product that reached this position because of the tireless effort of hundreds of team members for more than 10 years”.
Among those who were taking the eSewa boycott to the social networking sites, some even see it as their dissatisfaction over the charging huge sum to integrate the payment for their businesses. It seems true that F1soft being a grown-up big boss (with investment from Kantipur Media Group) in the IT/fintech Industry, gave back very little to the industry from where it emerged. But is this a proper time for the revenge!!!
As everything has come out in the public, it is a matter of the authorities to probe the whole thing in an unbiased way and punish the culprits. Similarly, if some of the legal provisions are not stringent enough, it has to be revised. Which should not be limited to data protection laws, cybercrime, unauthorized intrusion and also for defamation punishments.
With the huge concern of the people regarding the data misuse, Nepal Rastra Bank has to take a stern stand for the protection of KYC, payment data and impose a tough policy towards unauthorized use.
No higher-level officials from the government including PM have spoken anything about this issue. There has not been any initiation from the Government for the investigation of the matter. But people have already shown their outrage towards this uncouth incident.
After the incident, What do you think, are we data protected? How do you think esewa can redeem the trust of people?