KATHMANDU, April 3: The alleged involvement of Asgar Ali, the founder of F1Soft International which owns eSewa, in unauthorized infiltration and removal of a news content from a news website, www.kathmandupress.com, has raised concerns over the safety of money as well as sensitive private data of the public stored in the digital wallet.
As eSewa has over 2.1 million customers who park their billions of rupees in the digital wallet, its founder and owner's alleged involvement in unethical 'hacking' of the news website has many people worried about their sensitive data and cash parked in the platform.
Earlier on Wednesday, a news story of kathmandupress.com that was critical of Ali, who is also the IT advisor to Prime Minister KP Oli, disappeared from the site. A day after the news went viral, Shiran Technologies Pvt Ltd, which is also the developer of Kathmandu Press website, removed the news. ESewa and Shiran Technologies are both sister companies owned by F1Soft International where Ali is also a director. After pressures from F1Soft International's President Biswas Dhakal and Ali, founder and director of F1Soft, to remove the content did not work, the site developer reportedly removed the news story by entering the admin panel of the website.
In a news report on Tuesday, Kathmandu Press had accused Kshitiz, the son of PM Oli's chief advisor Bishnu Rimal; Swaraj, the son of Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel; and PM's IT advisor Ali of indulging in corruption while awarding a tender to Omni Group for importing medical equipment from China.
The act of highhandedness by eSewa and F1Soft International, which misused the access that its subsidiary [Shiran Technologies] has to the news website, has raised questions about the safety of the money and private data.
Not only eSewa holds billions of rupees as a digital wallet, its parent company F1Soft International is the vendor of most of the bank and financial institutions.
The company even boasts of leading the Nepali market with almost 90 percent of Nepal's financial institutions using at least one of F1Soft's transaction banking products.
“As an advisor to the prime minister, eSewa's owner Asgar Ali wields political power. The company has huge personal data of people carrying out digital or online transactions. Even banking institutions' software, products or websites have been developed by F1Soft International,” said a retired official at the payment services department of the Nepal Rastra Bank, highlighting the deep penetration of this group in financial technology.
“This episode shows that they can engage in unethical practices even with the money or data of the public without let or hindrance. How can they now assure their clients that the company would not repeat such things? People could lose trust in their digital wallet and their services,” he added.
Internet governance experts say that the deletion of client's data by the developer is not only a breach of trust but also a serious criminal offense.
“After lifting the corporate veil, it becomes clear that the site developer of kathmandupress.com is the company controlled by F1Soft International. At a time when the government is pushing for the use of digital technology, misusing the platform and deleting the data is a serious criminal offense,” said Baburam Aryal, a prominent cyber law expert.
“If this group cannot reassure that the public's data is safe and secure, the Nepal Rastra Bank or the regulator concerned should immediately intervene,” added Aryal.
The growing mistrust of users toward eSewa was also evident on the social media. Concerned over the safety of their data and money in the wake of the alleged involvement of its founder in infiltrating the news website, many of eSwea users on Twitter and Facebook said that they were uninstalling or deleting the eSewa app from their mobile phones and would stop using it.
“As a Tech Geek, I've been on a mission to make reqd. changes at Policy Level through technology. But I'm sorry to drop my 3 years experience with #esewa due to such a disgusting act made by the reputed founder whom I regarded an inspirational idol. I'm avoiding eSEWA! #RIPeSewa,” Sanjay Bhandari (@sanzj9) wrote in a tweet.