Our Privacy Is Shit, And You Know It!

Privacy is one of those things we don’t talk about a lot in India. Every now and then there’s a small debate in some corner of the social web, where concerned citizens get together and discuss how our privacy is shit. It’s clear by now that we don’t have any major privacy laws in the country.

Things will only get worse from here. More people are signing up for internet access, the government itself wants to promote the vision of a digital India, and more internet connectivity is exploding thanks to the current 4G LTE wave. You’d imagine by now we would have a serious discussion regarding our privacy. But no.

All of us are up for sale on the internet. If you have ever purchased anything online, chances are you are very likely to be on some sort of database that’s up for grabs. These databases sell for anywhere between Rs.5,000-Rs.15,000 depending on the weight. The details include names, addresses, primary cell phone numbers, a preferred mode of payment, and even mode of the transaction with the amount.

That’s a lot of sensitive information. Sometimes that’s all you need to break into someone’s account using basic social engineering skills. Now the question is who is leaking all these details? It could be the e-commerce companies, logistics partners, or third-party service providers to e-commerce companies. The points of leaks can be endless.

Local e-commerce companies treat your personal data like it doesn’t matter. Someone I knew in the industry, who worked in marketing, was regularly given dumps of customer data for manual segmentation. There was nothing in place to prevent him to take home all this sensitive information and sell outside. Then there are logistics partners which ask for customer details like phone numbers during delivery.

Last year a market research firm reached out to me, saying they were doing a survey for Paytm. On being asked if Paytm shared my personal details with them, the person on the other end politely declined. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.

The offline world isn’t any better. Most offline retail stores now ask for a phone number while checking out. They do this to send you text messages every now and then. Then there are loyalty programs at retail stores, petrol pumps, and all across. All this data finds its way into databases that are up for grabs.

Once the spamming begins there’s no DND (do not disturb) in the world to make it stop. These spammers find loopholes there too. Another area where this information gets misused is to steal users’ identity. Getting personal information makes it super easy for just about anyone to break into your personal accounts, be it a social networking website or a financial entity.

With the government expanding its coverage of Aadhaar, it’s only obvious for them to come up with privacy laws. Apart from protecting the rights of its citizens, it can also help instill a level of confidence amongst everyone for government projects like UID.

The same problems exist with privacy regarding Aadhaar. The ways in which both government and non-government entities are collecting Aadhaar numbers and putting them up on the web makes it a nightmare for everyone. Some educational institutions also go to the extent of uploading highly sensitive information like phone numbers, bank account numbers, Aadhaar number, etc. It’s only a matter of time before Aadhaar based databases go up on sale.

Privacy is shit, no doubt. What can one do about it? Not much. You can ensure you don’t buy online on shady websites. You could give out fake numbers at retail stores. But all this isn’t really bulletproof. One way or the other you’re likely to fall into their trap because nothing is keeping these guys scared from doing what they do.

WWDC 2017: A New Era For Apple?

WWDC is a crucial event for Apple purely from a software perspective. Apple brings together its enormous developer community and lays down the foundation for what’s supposed to come later this year. Apple announces upcoming versions of its powerful operating systems and gives developers a chance to fine-tune their apps to make the most out of the new technologies. In obvious ways, it also paves the path for major hardware launches for the current year.

The WWDC keynote this year was surprisingly refreshing, even though parts of the keynote felt a bit rushed. When you’ve got to cover so much there’s room for a few hiccups too. All that aside, this year’s WWDC keynote was about both hardware and software. Apple announced new versions of watchOS, macOS, and iOS. It also launched new MacBooks, MacBook Pro, iMacs, as well as the mighty powerful iMac Pro coming later this year. The new iPad Pro was a bit of a surprise, but it eventually ended up taking the limelight.

Everyone expected Apple to make some sort of announcement on its Echo clone, and it did. Apple announced its upcoming speaker called HomePod. It didn’t try and pitch it as a smart assistant. Instead, Apple focused on branding it as a premium speaker with Siri capabilities. That’s smart since you can’t charge a premium for a smart assistant right now, but you can if you’re selling a premium speaker with a smart assistant baked in.

The new Mac hardware is available right away, but you’ll need to wait till December for HomePod and iMac Pro. Developer previews of the upcoming editions of watchOS, macOS, and iOS are out too. The public beta should be available sometime later this month, if not early next month. General users will be able to upgrade their software for free starting December.

There are some major under the hood changes coming to macOS and iOS. watchOS is also getting nice upgrades, but it’ll be more interesting to see how Apple pairs them with new hardware later this year. The existing Watch 2 is doing quite well, according to the company.

But where Apple really hit the bull’s eye was: the new iPad Pro, and ARKit and Core ML. Of course the latter are SDKs meant for developers, but they will have a deep impact on a consumer’s experience going forward.

One could argue that the HomePod speaker is also a game-changer in itself, but I would keep that separate for now.

The new iPad Pro, along with iOS 11, is meant to shed the general assumption that iPads aren’t meant for any solid work. Of course, you can get your writing done, the earlier iPad Pro could handle a lot more, but with iOS 11 things are looking even better for those looking to get rid of their laptops while on the move. The US initiated laptop ban on flights might help with the cause, but that’s an entirely different story.

ARKit and Core ML will enable developers to bring exciting new interfaces to their apps. If you think you’ve seen it with Snapchat or Instagram’s live filters, think again. If the demo during the WWDC keynote is anything to go by, we’re all in for a treat.

How we interact with smartphone operating systems makes all the difference in the world. We started off with touchscreen devices, and we’ve come to a point where we are extremely comfortable with just about any such device. Ahead, in the future, we’ll be interacting in multiple different ways with mixed reality using our mobile devices.

The fall season will be an extreme testing point for Apple. No one likes fingers being pointed at you for not being ‘innovative’ or having too much ‘courage’. But when it comes to showing off real work, Apple didn’t leave any stone unturned at WWDC’s keynote.

What remains to be seen is how the consumers reach, how developers take things forward, and how far Apple can push its hardware and software to reach that perfect point where consumer experience peaks. And, of course, consumers don’t mind a little dent in their bank accounts.