A lot of countries in Africa do not have addressing systems and there is a push to have them adopt these granular forms of addressing for e-commerce and government service delivery. But existing addressing systems are structured to precisely link occupants to specific identity. I am reading more on this and would appreciate any leads.

What3words has given every 3m square in the world a unique 3 word address. It’s a really cool idea as the address can be memorized fairly easily.

The only problem is that it was created and is maintained by a for-profit company and is not an open standard.



Pretty interesting It also seems that if the words are not changing, it can be easily converted to a fixed GPS location (one hop away from the real GPS address).

It is possible.

  1. A PO box type system. You rent a letter box, like renting a locker in a train station. You pay in cash. Anyone who needs to send you letters, you give him this address instead of your house address.

  2. A cedex type system. The post office assigns you a code. People send letters to this code and the post office knows to forward them on to your house.

  3. A post office window type system. You use the address of the local post office and a password. The post gets delivered to the post office, and you can go and collect it using your password.

This was just a quick brainstorm. I’m sure other and better schemes are possible.


This is very promising – the post office system is quite extensive in some of these countries. Some of the pressing e-commerce demands may not work with this (like night time food delivery, or e-taxi). Perhaps all this goes to show individual efforts at maintaining privacy can only work minimally. This is a structural issue needing collective effort.

I was thinking just about posting letters.

For food delivery or taxis, you don’t need to tell anyone your name or address, just the location they are to go to. So the gps based ideas in this thread, or a conventional number, road, town address works be fine.

The best solution is usually a mixture of several methods, not a one size fits all.

These systems are designed to point at a specific location. You can improve the privacy by decreasing the granularity (ex 100m vs 1km vs 10km per code) however then you are reducing the utility.

Plus Codes are interesting because the length of the code determines the accuracy. So if you want something delivered to your door you can provide an accurate code but if you just need to find the nearest bank you can choose a lower accuracy. Of course this doesn’t prevent various services from demanding a code of at least a given accuracy.

At the end of the day the job of these systems are to provide your location. So the only ways to improve privacy is

  1. Ensure they only give your location. (Canadian postal codes and US zip codes do this)
  2. Change the accuracy of that location.

I did not know of Plus Codes but I do know of GhanaPostGPS. I see how this can be worked on to offer a better addressing system without taking too much information away from the individual. Something like a GPS location that is hashed. Then time-sensitive address tokens can be used depending on use case. If you buy a product and should be delivered in three days, you can give a token with one week expiration. That way, the company cannot use your purchase details to link to your address since the token has not real GPS location on it. But there are many loopholes that can be exploited in many ways.

But you can’t expire a physical location. So once that store converts it into a location there is nothing stopping them from storing that, even if the original token expires.


The conversion part is the tricky bit. If a third party decides to use their own system to convert GPS location to deliveries, that is out of your control. But you can perhaps use delivery locations that do not necessarily point to your exact location. It is a hard problem to both have a fixed location address and still keep some privacy.

I’m not sure if addressing systems are compatible with privacy at all. I don’t see how they could be.

In the countries you speak of, is there no mail service at present? Or is it one of those cases where the towns are small enough that you can just put the person’s name and town on a letter and it will get where it’s going because everyone in the town knows where everyone else lives? I know the latter system is used in some rural areas in Europe. And that doesn’t seem particularly private either, since it relies on all your neighbors knowing exactly who you are and where to find you.


That is the claimed dilemma – how do you facilitate e-commerce and government service delivery without reliable location precision.

I think it is a good thing that such addressing systems do not exist in some of these countries but the reality is that their non-existence is not a conscious decision to uphold privacy but rather an institutional delay to implement them. The pandemic seems to have revitalized the need to have national addressing systems. My worry is that they may get too invasive compared to existing ones since they may be linked digitally to more characteristics at the point of initial addressing.

Postal services are popular but not as active in e-commerce. The government uses them now for service delivery (renewing documents etc).

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Privacy has become a very important issue in modern society, with companies and governments constantly abusing their power, more and more people are waking up to the importance of digital privacy.

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