I am writing in response to a recent news report that Malaysia has the highest number of leaked mobile phone numbers, with over 21 million or 73% of users affected. These phone numbers were found to be breached or sold to online scam syndicates. According to the Gogolook 2022 Fraud Report, which examines data leaks and covert operations within online fraud syndicates in several countries. Besides mobile phone numbers, major information leaks include login passwords and names, followed by addresses, countries, dates of birth, and email leaks. This report also highlights that telecommunication companies should intensify their efforts and focus on ensuring user data security is not compromised. Personal data breaches like these open doors for scammers to infiltrate online banking accounts and social media networks, increasing the risk of fraud and theft.
However, it seems that telecommunications companies in Malaysia are more inclined to focus on their own bottom-line, as evidenced by recent news about their efforts to compete and build their own 5G networks. The GSMA, an international telecommunications association, has called on the Malaysian government to allow telecommunications operators to develop their own 5G networks, with the aim of creating healthy competition and improving the use of 5G technology in the country. This statement is somewhat contradictory to what we have learned from the 3G and 4G episodes in Malaysia, and does not match the scenario for users in Malaysia. To this day, after more than 15 years of implementation, the country’s 4G coverage is still not comprehensive, and there are still many people who have no access to phones or the internet. Internet-based spectrum services with telecommunications tower infrastructure driven by telecommunications operators are more likely to focus on infrastructure development in urban and high-density areas, where demand from more affluent users is higher than in rural areas. As a result, people in remote and rural areas are hindered from accessing internet facilities, widening the technology and digital gap between the people.
It is somewhat strange and peculiar for the GSMA, an international organization with no roots and interests in Malaysia, headed by an Australian Julian Gorman, to speak at length on the needs of Malaysian users, despite never having lived and experienced mobile internet in Malaysia. This U-turn statement by GSMA had also raised doubts about the credibility of the organization; GSMA was one of the earlier supporters of the Single Wholesale Network model by Digital Nasional Berhad, and suddenly, not even half way through the implementation process, the association has openly made contradictory recommendations on the matter.
In summary, local telcos need to buck up on what really matters to its users; they need to prioritize user data security, and the government needs to ensure that internet access is equitable for all Malaysians in the country, irrespective of geography, income and socio-economic status.
Policy and strategy analyst
The Coverage Malaysia