One thing we love about the internet is how it’s more or less the same internet regardless of where you access it. Some of you are reading this from the UK, some are in SA, and at least 0.6% this week have been located in Pakistan.
Save for some geo-locked content, the internet experience is the same worldwide. This means apps and websites do not need to know where we are to offer us service. As a result, very few apps really need to know our location.
Google Maps cannot tell you when to turn left if it doesn’t know where you are in the first place. Weather apps obviously need to know where you are. All these we understand but why does NMB Bank need to know my location?
Banking apps and location access
Some NMB customers were left furious when the NMB Connect app would not let them log in without giving it location access.
The thinking was that NMB Connect is a Zimbabwean banking app attached to a Zimbabwean account with Zimbabwe Dollars in it which can only be spent in Zimbabwe. When put like that, one cannot see why NMB would need location access.
We shall look at a few reasons why NMB would need location data but I just can’t bring myself to support them adopting an ‘our way or the highway’ approach. They should have made it optional, not refuse access to anyone who won’t give location access.
NMB could use location information to help users locate the branches nearest to them. Obviously the app would need to know where you are to tell you which branch is closest to you.
That’s neat but how many people actually need help with that. I understand that banks have been closing physical branches and less and less people are actually visiting those branches.
This means you might find that the branch you used to frequent back in the day no longer exists. The NMB Connect might help you find out the closest branch in that scenario.
I think we don’t need to bring location access into this transaction. The CBZ Touch app simply has a branch locator tab where one can see where all branches are located and plan their route accordingly. No location information needs to be exchanged.
In the noughties my father once walked into a bank branch with a spring in his step looking to withdraw some cash only to be told his account was overdrawn. He had received a transfer the day before and so knew something was wrong.
The bank statement had him withdrawing cash at an ATM in Kadoma at 11:30 am, in Harare at 11:50am and in Gweru at 12:30pm. I won’t name the bank but they apologised and gave him his money bank.
It was impossible for him to physically withdraw cash at ATMs in those 3 cities in the span of an hour. The system should have picked up on that.
If NMB Connect knows your location, it can decline transactions initiated from different locations. If the app has you in Harare and someone tries to swipe with a card attached to that account in Masvingo, at the very least you need to authorise those transactions. You may have given someone your card but the bank would not know this until you let them know.
NMB should have deployed it better
That may be but NMB should have communicated with customers first. The frustration from their customers is not because they are opposed to letting the bank know their locations. That would be silly, NMB already knows how they spend their money, where they spend their money and can piece out on what that money is spent.
Giving NMB location information is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. However, customers should be able to opt out. It can’t be the case that if your phone’s GPS is not working you can’t do your banking.
NMB can rectify this, after all, they are not being compelled by anyone to do this as far as we can tell. None of their rivals are doing this and so I doubt there is any regulation at play here.
One can use USSD to get around the location hurdle, making the ‘location access or nothing’ hard stance look a little misguided.