Zimbabwe’s largest e-commerce company, HnT, accidentally exposes user database


Hammer n Tongues, arguably Zimbabwe’s largest e-Commerce company, yesterday morning accidentally sent out private contact details of  over 5,000 customers in an email to their customer base. The details included name, email address, phone number and the city of the customers. The details also included a customer buyer ID that the company uses on their ecommerce platform.

The information, which was in an excel spreadsheet, was clearly meant for internal use only. According to the email, the customers in spreadsheet were inactive users, which just means users that haven’t bought anything in a long time, or have never done so.

Later the same day, the company sent out an email to recall the previous email. Here:


Dear users

Please be advised that an email was sent with the subject line ‘Hammer and Tongues Shopping Mall Copy of HTSM USers updated to inactive users.xls’

This email was for internal purposes only and not meant for public consumption.

We would like to recall that message and ask the public not to use, reproduce any part of the message and attached database as it is the sole property of Hammer and Tongues Africa Holdings.

This will likely unsettle a lot of their customers as it creates a perception that HnT’s private information handling procedures are lax. A lot of people would likely feel uncomfortable at the possibility of their ecommerce activities shared with the world.

We requested further comment from the company but they hadn’t responded with one by the time we published the article. Guys that harvest email addresses to spam people with local promos and other such are probably gleefully adding these email addresses to their databases as we speak.

We wrote about HnT’s ecommerce effort here a couple of weeks ago. They company is making a huge bet on eCommerce in the country. Bigger than any startup has made so far. Going by this number alone, it shows they have gained some modest traffic since launch in July last year. What’s harder to see is the complete picture that this inactive users number contributes to. The last time we asked HnT for their customer base numbers, they wouldn’t give them, which is usually a sign there’s not much to celebrate just yet. The inactive users could be a significant portion of their customers or just a small fraction, who knows!

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