After the Intervention workshop in Nairobi the DSO team headed out to western Kenya to hold two more digital skills workshops in Kisumu and Vihiga. Each workshop—an "Intervention"—is intended to impact the study’s treatment group by improving their digital skills. With some careful analysis and iterative design, these interventions will cascade and help study participants gain the skills they need to be confident and aware of their smartphones and the Internet. (Read more about the DSO study design.)

Kisumu | Vihiga

Kisumu community members—Alex Amolo, Sharon Gisore, Walter Loso, Bonface Ochieng, Jack Olango, Mike Otieno and Chandi Tome—hosted the second and third intervention, for Kisumu and Vihiga respectively, with more than 30 first time smartphone users in total. (You can read more about the Kisumu community on their blog.)

During the Nairobi intervention, each team member volunteered to lead a section of the workshop, corresponding to the curriculum the team had prepared. While one person ran an activity, others observed and mingled with the research participants who had journeyed to the workshop that morning. Before each workshop, the team made minor adjustments to the curriculum, and it’s important to acknowledge that these changes were made due to varying facilitation style and questions from participants. Between sites, the curriculum can’t change too much, since we want to be able to analyze the efficacy of the curriculum content and workshop style. (Read more about the curriculum in the Nairobi intervention blog post.)

Early findings

Make my money social

During this workshop, some participants expressed a desire to be able to make financial transactions on social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp. This idea was viewed as a very practical way to deal with money.

When asked why this a more convenient transactional method, people noted that Facebook and WhatsApp enjoy enormous membership among Kenya’s smartphone population, and these app give users very easy access to their contacts.

Because of the pervasive nature of both Facebook and mobile money services like M-Pesa on smartphones, it may be a natural logical leap for people to think that Facebook’s functionality could extend beyond simple media sharing with social networks to include financial transactions as well. This is an open question.

Observation: Facebook is seen as a digital profile that should allow for more than photo sharing. Participants want to use something built on top of social networks they’re familiar with that can perform basic financial transaction. With all small business that use Facebook to advertise and sell goods and services, this is a very practical (natural, perhaps) logical leap.

How popular valuable are you on Facebook?

With the rise of social media and ambient need for micro-loans, some companies like Branch are leveraging Facebook to decide whether or not a customer is a worthy candidate for a loan. Apps like Branch are becoming increasingly popular in Kenya, and participants in DSO have been trying to download and use it.

(For a more complete understanding of loans and Kenya’s socioeconomics, refer to the Kenya Financial Diaries.)

Applications like Branch decide whether or not a person is qualified for a loan based on their Facebook popularity, and other data in their smartphones. By providing Branch access to a Facebook profile, it attains a huge amount of data from Facebook about a person and their network. For people in that use their real information in their profile, Branch can make good decisions about risk, and can locate a person should they choose to disappear without repaying a loan.

With respect to DSO, this discovery is fascinating and illustrates how social networks and extended digital life can have a direct impact on people’s financial access and stability. It also raises some new questions:

  • What are some other DFS examples that leverage access to social media profiles and the information on them?
  • Do people consider this type of application when purchasing their first smartphone?
  • What [implied] digital skills are required? Are there new competencies needed to take advantage of these applications?

Cascading Confusion: Emails, Accounts and the Play Store

Similar to findings from Nairobi, participants from Kisumu and Vihiga find emails, accounts, the Play Store, and the link between them very confusing, often leading to avoidance and rejection —sometimes in favour of other methods. Many people don't understand the need for a Google account to access the Play Store and prefer to use other methods to download apps—that are also less costly.

Many people don't understand or have a recurring use for email. Its abstraction, the account (i.e. the connection between an email address and an online identity, and the capabilities that allows), is thereby misunderstood. Android only provides access to the Play Store with a Google account, which requires a Google (GMail) email address, which causes even more confusion.

On top of all of this uncertainty is the cost of data that downloading anything from the Play Store implies. Without a way to ask for clarification and assistance about any of these topics, people simply prefer to use other, more circuitous methods to acquire apps:

  • Receiving APKs from friends over Bluetooth or other side-loading methods,
  • Via Flash Share, a very popular peer-to-peer sharing app that lets people send and receive apps in bulk to others nearby without a data connection.
Flash Share is very popular among smartphone users in Kenya, and is referred to as the go-to solution for installing new apps. It does not cost any data, and appears to be cross-branded with an app called Xender, which offers very similar features. Interestingly, it comes pre-installed on some Tecno smartphones, which are among the cheapest and most popular low-end phones in Kenya. Tecno, a Chinese brand, is penetrating the Kenyan smartphone market very effectively, and releases very convincing smartphone lookalikes, running a Java OS.

The Play Store appears to be a mysterious, poorly recognized icon on home screens. Among DSO participants, few people use the Play Store directly, and seldom rely on it to discover new content (except, in some cases, music). In some cases, when people attempt to download apps by themselves, they use Google with search phrases like, "Download Whatsapp", and are then deep-linked into the Play Store. Furthermore, because they receive apps from friends, first-time smartphone users are likely to depend on their real-world social network to shape their digital experience.

Hypothesis: if people are shown how to use the Play Store to discover new content and applications, they might be interested in exploring more of their smartphone’s functionality, and become less reliant on their close real-world network to discover new apps.

Trusting your Apps

Without a solid understanding and substantial degree of comfort with the reviews and permissions models on which the Play Store is based, it may be difficult to understand the validity, quality, or trustworthiness of an app, or to understand the eventual effects an installed app will have on a device.

To a new smartphone user, it may seem reasonable that apps on the Play Store are of a certain quality, and are safe to use. However, apps can be developed and published by anyone with the knowledge and means to do so, thereby relying on the Android user community to report apps that are of poor quality, or those that falsely advertise their permissions or features. (The thin approval layer that Google has implemented also helps to some degree).

In this environment, literacy (digital and English) play a central role in comprehending the actual features of an app and the level of permission (access to files, accounts, messages, etc.) it requires to function. Higher-quality apps are often accompanied by a detailed description that suggests the necessity of the permissions it demands, and corresponding positive (or critical) reviews from users.

During the intervention workshop, participants relayed stories of being confused about what apps do, where they come from, and what they can do to a device. Some participants were tricked into using apps that, superficially, claim to do something they actually don’t do. These stories and subsequent inquiries prompted a conversation and short demonstration about how the Play Store app ecosystem and its trust model work.

Hypothesis: With a basic understanding of the Play Store’s trust model, and that apps can be developed and submitted by anybody with the knowledge to do so, people will be more inclined to verify an apps validity and quality before installing it.

HIV Test Prank: At least one participant has been mislead by an app that claims to detect HIV by analyzing its user’s fingerprint. Labeled with “prank” in its title, and sporting over 50,000 installs, a substantial amount of the app’s reviews are positive and make reference to the ruse it embodies. Yet, its meandering, repetitive description makes for obvious reference, to the permissions it demands access to, including Identity, Location, and Device ID and Call information. Interestingly, while still plagued with intrusive ads, there are apps in the Play Store that attempt to earnestly evaluate HIV symptoms through a series of questions.

Furthermore, in networks of people that are concerned about their data usage, people tend to rely on apps like Flash Share to exchange apps, thereby relying on their personal networks to learn about apps and their effectiveness and trustworthiness. Unfortunately, this method of sharing circumvents the more robust commentary that the broader Android community provides through the Play Store.

How might we: provide app awareness similar to the Play Store for people that rely on their interpersonal networks, taking into account various literacy levels?

The Internet is a Data Mystery

Without obvious indicators or knowledge of the systems that consume data, there is confusion among participants about how their data is used—in some cases quicker than they understand.

While being an accurate and informative tool for those who understand it, the cellular data usage settings menu on Android smartphones seems not to be well understood and consequently underutilized by participants.

For some people, the intervention workshop demonstrated the existence of Android’s data usage tracking features, and revealed reasons for their unexpectedly quick data consumption. For example, while one participant was confident about his consumption patterns concerning WhatsApp and Facebook, after learning about these features he was surprised to see the amount of cellular data his smartphone was using through Opera Mini. However, another user was unaware that WhatsApp was automatically downloading multimedia content sent to him through groups, incurring significant data costs—something these data usage tracking features would not be able to tell him about.

This problem became one of the concepts for Tamasha Hack, during which people created solutions to develop digital skills for first-time smartphone users.

Perspectives of Internet access, content, and architecture differ according to experience. Colloquially, some participants refer to the Internet as “data”, suggesting a lack of understanding (or lack of a need to understand) the difference between Internet connectivity (e.g. Safaricom) and content (e.g. Wikipedia). For first-time smartphone users in Kenya, a lack of experience with PC Internet architecture may lead to a lack of a distinction between “Internet” and “data”.

Also, participants find the Internet architecturally mysterious, with curiosity about how data gets from one place to another using an assortment of physical structures and phenomena (e.g. including cell towers, satellites, SIM cards, and Wi-Fi access points).

Participant Quotes

Below is a selection of interesting quotes from Kisumu and Vihiga intervention workshop participants:

  • "Who makes the Internet? Safaricom."
  • "How do I know if the person on Facebook who is talking to me is actually from India?"
  • "How does Internet work from other countries?"
  • "How do we connect with people from other countries and yet we don't have boosters in the oceans and seas?"
  • "I’d like to know how to download apps and how to know if they are safe for your phone."
  • "I’ve learned that the Internet is for everyone."
  • "For you to use social media skills, you must have an account. So you need to learn about this for using Twitter and Instagram."

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