In line with the Africa-wide trend of taxing both digital and communication sectors, in 2020, the Congolese government implemented a ‘stolen phone tax’. Naturally, smartphone security’s a hot topic, and governments around the world have brought in legislation to deter theft. That’s not gone down well in the Congo however, where the government’s announced a u-turn on its ‘stolen phone tax’.
But, first, what was the tax? And how did it work?
The so-called “stolen phone tax” was a tax on mobile registration imposed by the Congolese government that funded a secure central registry to deter theft.
Owners recorded their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) on the Register of Mobile Devices (RAM), so that phones reported lost or stolen were blocked. A record of ownership stored on the registry was designed to prevent criminals from entering stolen and counterfeit phones back into the market.
The national registry contained verifiable details as to where the device comes from, its history of owners, and purchase dates. It was meant to make reporting and retrieving lost and stolen devices easier. So, what went wrong?
Although the registry was a logical response to combat increasing device theft, it didn’t effectively achieve any of its aims. But why not?
The RAM tax was a required fee for all device users, payable in six monthly instalments. In total, it cost the Congolese Franc equivalent of $1 for 2G device owners and $7 for 3G and 4G owners. That amounts to around 1% of the average Congolese citizen’s annual cost of living, or the US equivalent of around $600 per year.
Only half of the Congolese population owns a smartphone. By comparison, almost everyone in the US has one. Recently, emerging markets on the continent have been emphasizing mobile affordability to boost the exchange of information for both social and business purposes. But the government’s tax actually boosted the digital divide, setting a higher barrier to entry into the smartphone market for its citizens, who simply couldn’t afford it on top of the ever-increasing cost of device ownership.
Consumer rights activists questioned the benefits of a tax that did little to prevent stolen phones from reentering the market. There was no transparency from the government as to where the funds were actually going, so device owners had no proof that the money was responsibly allocated. That left a sour taste for critics of the tax, who accused the government of theft; the very crime it promised to deter.
On top of this, public opposition to the tax demonstrated that it wasn’t only ineffective and unaffordable but unpopular too.
The leader of the opposition urged the public to “march and denounce it because it’s theft” and further challenged the government to return the collected money once the tax was scrapped.
Public opinion of the tax was never positive, but continued protests nationwide forced the government to reconsider and, eventually, to scrap it. While no money has yet been returned to those affected, the tax was ceased on March 1st 2022.
The rising global trend in mobile device theft demands new technology that’s actually effective and doesn’t prevent entry into the market. For now, mobile device security is down to the individual owner.
That’s where LOX comes into the picture.
Smartphone theft is a rising concern globally, and an estimated 70 million smartphones are stolen each year. For instance, in Brazil alone 15,000 smartphones are stolen every day. What’s more, as the cost of smartphones increases, so does their value to thieves. The cost of insuring mobile devices, as well as the cost of replacing or repairing lost, stolen, and damaged phones, is higher than ever.
LOX bridges physical and digital ownership with a unique dual NFT proof-of-ownership model to secure your mobile device against theft. Given the global increase in mobile device theft, the international phone theft market is thriving. Unlike many centralized IMEI databases, like the one established in the Congo, that have a restricted national reach, a decentralized blacklist like ours isn’t restricted by nation or network.
We’re building the world’s first global IMEI-style blockchain to target and dismantle the phone theft industry through a decentralized blacklist that helps recover lost and stolen devices.
Find out how to take control of your mobile device security with LOX.
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