By Angeline Mgbele, Correspondent Abuja
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has sanctioned an online lending platform, Soko Lending Company Limited (Soko Loans), for privacy invasion, according to information signed by Head, Corporate Affairs and External Relations at NITDA, Hadiza Umar.
NITDA took this action after receiving series of complaints against the company for unauthorized disclosures, failure to protect customers’ personal data and defamation of character, among other infractions that contravened the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR).
One of such data-centric complaints filed by Bloomgate Solicitors on behalf of its client, according to NITDA, was received on Monday, 11th November 2019, and as part of its due diligence process, commenced investigation over the alleged infractions of the provisions of the NDPR.
Soko Loans grants its customers uncollateralised loans and requires a loanee to download its mobile application on their phone and activate a direct debit in the company’s favour. The app gains access to the loanee’s phone contacts.
According to one of the complainants, when he failed to meet up with his repayment obligations due to insufficient credit in his account on the date the direct debit was to take effect, the company unilaterally sent privacy invading messages to the complainant’s contacts.
Investigation revealed that complainants’ contacts who were neither parties to the loan transaction nor consented to the processing of their data had confirmed the receipt of such messages.
NITDA stated that it made strident efforts to get Soko Loan to change the unethical practice but to no avail. “After the Agency’s investigation team secured a lien order on one of the company’s accounts by which it could come up with privacy enhancing solutions for its business model, Soko Loan decided to rebrand and directs its customers to pay into its other business accounts, “ its statement reads in part.
The Agency’s investigation further revealed that the company embeds trackers that share data with third parties inside its mobile application without providing users information about it or using the appropriate lawful basis.
NITDA, therefore, found Soko Loan and its entities in violation of the following legal provisions:
- Use of non-conforming privacy notice, contrary to Article 2.5 and 3.1(7) of the NDPR;
- Insufficient lawful basis for processing personal data, contrary to Articles 2.2 and 2.3 of the NDPR;
- Illegal data sharing without appropriate lawful basis, contrary to Article 2.2 of the NDPR;
- Unwillingness to cooperate with the Data Protection Authority, contrary to Article 3.1 (1) of Data Protection Implementation Framework; and
- Non-filing of NDPR Audit reports through a licensed Data Protection Compliance Organisation (DPCO), contrary to Article 4.1(7) of the NDPR.
In view of the foregoing and in consideration of its implication on the privacy of Nigerians and erosion of trust in the digital economy, NITDA hereby:
- imposes a monetary sanction of Ten Million Naira (N10,000,000) on Soko Lending Company Limited.
- directs that no further privacy invading messages be sent to any Nigerian until the company and its entities show full compliance with the NDPR.
- directs the company to pay for the conduct of a Data Protection Impact Assessment by a NITDA appointed DPCO on its operation; and
- Placement on a mandatory Information Technology and Data Protection oversight for 9 months.
The criminal aspects of this investigation, according to NITDA, has been deposited with the Nigeria Police Force to determine if the executives of the company are liable to imprisonment for violating Section 17 of the NITDA Act, 2007.
NITDA reminds all Nigerian businesses and data controllers of their obligation to engage NITDA-licensed Data Protection Compliance Organisations (DPCO) to guide them towards compliance with the data protection law as the Agency is poised to fully enforce the NDPR with the aim of sanitising the operating environment, instilling confidence in the digital economy and protecting the right to privacy of Nigerians.