Experian hack Part II: When criminals roam free (from consequences)

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Why didn’t Experian immediately tell us that its data had been stolen and that it had been dumped onto the internet?

Did the multinational credit agency really think that angry South Africans wouldn’t find out it was economical with the truth when it claimed the data breach of 24-million consumers and 800,000 businesses had been “contained”?

The data was leaked onto the internet, as everyone suspected, in the two and a half months that the conman had it. They failed to admit the lengthy delay in their first press release.

It’s an astounding irony that a business which essentially provides a service to check the creditworthiness of potential customers for its own clients’ business didn’t do its own precursor check of the actual “fraudster,” as Experian later called him, before handing over so much personal data.

And even more astounding is that they will – legally – get away with the crime. Because the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) has taken so long to be finalised that Experian will get off scot-free. It makes me sick, as they say in the classics.

Who is this multinational company that has records of my life and my personal data? Where is the service-level agreement they signed with me to have custody and access to this information? Where are the details of how they obtained it?

They have built a business model based on my – on our – data and yet, I have no control over it. Nor, as we have discovered, can I prevent it from being shared with a “fraudster”. And, worst of all, I can’t report this as a crime because our ANC-led government, as usual, doesn’t have its eye on the ball of what really matters.

Once again, a Homer Simpson-eque minister is in charge of this key portfolio.

Communications, telecommunications & postal services minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is “either a petty despot or clueless about her job,” as Business Day’s Genevieve Quintal points out.

The FM has aptly labelled her a “one-woman wrecking ball” for her destructive effects on the SABC, the SA Post Office, and, arguably most importantly, with the Independent Communications Authority of SA. Successive ministers have interfered with the regulator for decades, reducing its funding or meddling with the choice of councillors, as happened this month.

I was astounded Ndabeni-Abrahams wasn’t fired immediately after her viral Instagram picture in April of her lunching with convicted woman-batterer Mduduzi Manana in the middle of the hard lockdown.

I know we should applaud President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent success is getting the ANC to agree that any of its members charged with fraud or corruption should step down. Because that doesn’t seem like an alternate reality where politicians accused of grievous crimes don’t immediately resign – not only because they are supposedly behaving with the required decorum of elected officials but because common decency demands it. Go ask Zandile Gumede or Andile Lungisa, the latter was convicted for assault and still served in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.

That is the ANC’s minimum standard for corruptibility – that the person is actually charged with a crime – which just demonstrates how thoroughly corrupt the ruling party truly is.

Whatever happened to that arcane concept that public officials had to aspire to be more honourable and more accountable because of their higher standing in society. Let’s not forget who paid for their 40th birthday or bought them a R3m Aston Martin they were premier of Gauteng. FFS.

So why should Experian, which foolishly exposed 24 million of us and 800,000 of our businesses to a fraudster, worry about legal consequences? Not even our own politicians do.

This article first appeared in the Financial Mail.

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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