Did you know that only one in three Indians would object to their privacy being breached? This is according to a 2014 survey conducted by Pew Research Centre. It is apparent that a lot of Indians wouldn’t mind trading their personal information for a few rupees of cashback or discount.
Case in point, Flipkart, the largest e-commerce website in India, is currently offering a “Student Club Membership”, through which discounts of up to a few hundred rupees depending on the product’s price band can be availed. To register for this, a student must upload their identity card, this will be verified, and then they will be eligible for the discount. A student’s identity card does contain some information that may be considered personal, so is it worth trading your information for a discount of a few hundred rupees?
We, as humans, have come very far in the realm of technology in the past couple of decades. We are now involved in activities that couldn’t even be imagined at the turn of this century.
However, in India, the internet started becoming more accessible towards the end of 2016. This is when companies saw the potential of the Indian population as a data trove.
The entry of foreign brands providing value for money smartphones at an affordable rate led to the boom in smartphone sales. The projected number of smartphone users by 2025 is over 950 million, which bolsters the companies looking at India for its data-mining potential.
One thing many smartphone brands have done to hit the low price points is, undermine their customer’s privacy by enrolling them in questionable user experience programs, pre-installing unwanted applications, and pushing advertisements through notifications or inbuilt system applications for which they get a steady stream of revenue even after the sale of their primary product, i.e. a smartphone is completed.
We can observe the direct relation between staying connected and lack of privacy.
During the setup process of a smartphone or an application, you may come across some options such as in the above images. In Image 1, the two checkboxes below the “I agree to all.” option, are non-obligatory; they can be unchecked. In Image 2, you can see the “Send usage and diagnostic data”, the company pushes this to improve the user experience. However, the sheer amount of data being collected is unimaginable and I would advise steering clear of this, as the difference in experience is not worth personal data being collected. In Image 3, the checkboxes of location, diagnostic data, and personalized ads appear. Of course, some applications such as food delivery, banking, and ride-hailing apps require location access, but one should uncheck this at setup since applications can be provided location access individually after setup when needed. The other two must be unchecked because if left on, they track app usage, search, and browser history to provide us with tailored ad recommendations, and I suppose many of us would not want that.
Now let us see how websites intrude on our privacy.
We all might have noticed the “Accept All Cookies” button on websites, and for some more reading real estate, we thoughtlessly click on “Accept All” and move on. But as someone mindful of their privacy, one must go into “Cookies Settings” and uncheck the unnecessary ones. It’s an added step, but it makes your data a little more secure.
But what exactly are cookies? Cookies are small text files used to identify a device, as it logs onto a website. In the above image, the intent of cookies is clearly mentioned, which does not appear to be very righteous.
So how might accepting cookies affect us? For example, if one is looking for a flight ticket, they check prices, other factors and then decide on one particular flight. If the ticket isn’t booked immediately, and later on a search is done, the price of the same ticket may increase by a couple of hundred rupees or more.
This is why it is always recommended to clear history and cookies or use the private mode of your browser after shopping online for tickets or booking hotels. Though cookies are generally used for targeted advertising, social media platforms try to influence user opinions and push ads by using the data shared to them by websites.
Of course, privacy is not limited to cookies and personal information (these are pivot points through which entry into personal data is made), it goes beyond that, such as having secure passwords, and running good anti-virus software on your computer. But please refrain from using similar passwords for every account you have, because if a hacker gets access to any one of these passwords, it’s incredibly easy for them to access all your other accounts.
One may argue that they have nothing to hide and that privacy in the modern world is a myth. To some extent this is true, a part of the informed populace has lost hope and given up due to government surveillance and does not care about privacy anymore. Edward Snowden, a prominent advocate of online privacy stated, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say”. But, privacy isn’t about having something to hide, it is about protecting who we are as human beings: our fears, our relationships, and our vulnerabilities from exploitation and manipulation.
As someone once said, ”If privacy is given up now, one cannot claim it back later. After all, if no value was assigned to it in the first place, there is no way one can justify their right to it at a later stage”. These statements are eye-openers because people must be vocal and assert themselves to protect their right to privacy.
With governments around the world bringing in proper data privacy laws, I hope the same will be implemented in India soon.