Our Privacy is Shit And You Know It

privacy in India

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, preferred mode of payment, and even mode of transaction with amount.

Websites are openly selling user data at a flat price.

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 instil 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.

This Is Why I Hate Online Strangers

online privacy

Just recently I wrote about a horrible incident that happened with a close friend’s sister. The reason it makes me so furious is how lightly people take their own privacy. People, like the government, end up blaming social networks for ruining their privacy. Social networks empower users with privacy features and if you’re not using them smartly, you’re putting yourself at risk.

Another shocking incident has come to light just yesterday. A 17 year old girl in Delhi was raped by someone she met on Facebook. That too on New Year’s eve. Apparently the guy, along with a friend, invited the girl over to their apartment to celebrate the New Year. It was there that the girl was allegedly sedated and then raped by both the men as the girl lay unconscious.

Social networking today is amazing. You can meet a whole lot of new people who otherwise you wouldn’t have. People who share similar interests and people who you love talking to or hanging out with. There’s just one small problem. These people aren’t always as amazing as they sound. Strangers are pretty sick people.

Sharing your personal information like your phone number, photos, location and other personal information with strangers can have adverse effects. I’m not asking people to start living in caves but sharing personal information with people you know and trust is such an obvious thing. You wouldn’t want this to happen to someone you know, would you?

The next time you accept a friend request from a stranger, a phone call from an unknown number or a request to share your personal information or files – just ask yourself one question: can I trust this guy/girl?

Take your privacy a little more seriously, please.

A Note About Online Safety For Girls

online privacyPicture this – A guy is happily surfing the web when he suddenly notices one of those cheap-shot advertisements for adult phone-friend networks. There’s nothing shocking about it – except that the ad carries the photograph of someone he knows. His sister! The ad carries his sister’s photo in such a way that it appears inviting, with a text on it that says, “Call Me Now – ***”.

How did his sister’s photo land on an advertisement for such a company? The so called friendship network somehow got hold of his sister’s photograph, which appears to be self-shot using a phone camera, and pasted it on one of their ads. This ad could be appearing for millions of other users too. The guy panics and confronts his sister.

His sister reveals that the photo used on the ad was shared by her sometime back with another guy who she used to chat with. She never met the guy in real, she only talked to him over the phone or online messaging tools.
Continue reading “A Note About Online Safety For Girls”

Secure your Facebook profile with Login Approvals

how to secure facebook profile

Facebook has finally rolled out it’s Login Approvals security feature for all users. The new feature would help users secure their profile from malicious users and prevent unauthorized access to user profiles. Login Approvals is a Two-Factor Authentication system that is similar to the ones used by various banks for online transactions. The system requires a user to enter a security code while logging in from a new device or a computer.

I feel every user must enable this feature to make their profiles more secure. Here’s how to do it:
Continue reading “Secure your Facebook profile with Login Approvals”

Facebook Launches Simple Privacy Controls. Again.

Facebook has woken up to the recent privacy buzz across the web. Facebook has been accused of providing a mesh of privacy options too hard for a person to control. Some people have even gone to the extent of working on an anti-Facebook solution due to Facebook’s recent privacy fiasco. Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg acknowledged that the earlier privacy settings were indeed complex.
Continue reading “Facebook Launches Simple Privacy Controls. Again.”

Will YOU leave Facebook for this open source alternative?

Four New York University students have voiced their opinion against the social giant Facebook in an innovative manner. They are going to launch a Facebook alternative that shall be an open source web service that puts it’s users in control of their data. Something tech pundits have given the term anti-Facebook.

The news comes as no surprise amidst growing concerns over Facebook’s privacy policies. Users have ranted about how Facebook’s new privacy features have doomed their online social networking experience time and again. Some users were forced to shut down their profiles on Facebook as a result of growing suspicion that their private data might become openly accessible.
Continue reading “Will YOU leave Facebook for this open source alternative?”

Is your ex-boyfriend on Twitter?

social media twitterI was having a conversation the other day with she-who-must-not-be-named about how social media has changed our lives. There came a point in the conversation when I started going blah blah about Twitter and how a simple idea has now turned into the Godzilla of social media. I suddenly realized that this friend of mine didn’t have a clue about what Twitter exactly was. She had heard about Twitter in the dailies and her idea of Twitter was a new age MySpace on which celebrities boasted about their worth.

I’ve had a rough time explaining Twitter and how to use it to people. It’s more easier to let them join the site and check it out for themselves rather than explaining the concepts of @replies, retweets, followers etc. So I asked this friend of mine to join Twitter and start by following some of the people I follow.
Continue reading “Is your ex-boyfriend on Twitter?”

Facebook’s New Privacy Settings Are Cool

facebook privacy status messageFacebook has recently come up with new privacy settings for all it’s users. In the recent 24 hours it has implemented the new privacy controls across all users you have signed in by taking them to the settings page right after they logged in. I have always been a fan of Facebook’s privacy features. It’s something no social network cared about, a simple yet very important feature, privacy.

Facebook’s new privacy controls are an added advancement to their existing set of privacy features. Implementing privacy across a set of 350 million users who have their own different requirements is not an easy job. Facebook has gone the right way by letting you take full control of all your content on Facebook. Now you can control everything from photos to your status messages, you’re in charge of the who-sees-what world.
Continue reading “Facebook’s New Privacy Settings Are Cool”