What’s in a name or number? Everything, in era of less privacy & identity theft
“COULD I have your name and number, ma'am?” the cashier at the clothes store asks politely.
“Of course!” the eager shopper replies and rattles off her name and 10 holy digits linked to everything from bank accounts to food delivery apps.
This shopper could have been any Indian who is always looking to gain ‘loyalty points’ to get a freebie or discount — if not immediately, at least in time for Diwali. But, does an average Indian shopper stop to think of how their safety and security are being jeopardised while trying to make a quick buck?
“I give my name and number at all shops and restaurants,” says K Soumya (name changed), who works at a bank. “The reason I give out my details is simple: I want a discount the next time I come back to shop or eat. Sometimes it is also to genuinely give feedback to the restaurant manager. I never perceived it to be risky which is why I did it.”
This lack of awareness about the ill-effects of compromising on privacy is leading to a number of issues like data theft and cyber fraud. “We have to realise that we should not trade our privacy for a few extra rupees,” says Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court lawyer and cyber law expert. “Giving out information at stores and restaurants is like walking into an openended net. It must be completely avoided. Stores monetise your data and may also sharie that data with other parties. You are a product for them, after all, so why must you trade your data? It is a losing bargain!”
‘Privacy’ has been the buzzword ever since the Supreme Court in July said the word is an ‘amorphous’ term, and not an absolute right that can prevent the State from making laws imposing reasonable restrictions on citizens. This becomes particularly important as petitions challenging Aadhaar say biometric data like iris scans and fingerprints violate a citizens’ privacy.
Making a case against Aadhaar, cyber law expert Na Vijayashankar says n a bid to simplify and ensure a seamless system, Aadhaar is resulting in the unification of risk, becoming a single point of vulnerability. “Aadhaar is a recipe for disaster,” says Vijayashanker. “It primarily uses a citizen’s mobile number and biometric details. While our biometric information is supposed to be safe, with the right software, it is possible that data can be siphoned before it gets sent to the encryption application, in a matter of a microsecond. Further, these biometric devices are Chinese devices which are known to have embedded chips that can be accessed by fraudsters.”
The risk involved with giving out personal details especially information like name, date of birth, mobile number and so on, is that these are basic details required for financial transactions as well. “This concept of privacy is new in India,” Vijayashankar explains. “It has become important because it is linked to our financial transactions and the moment that happens, anything becomes important! With digitisation, privacy issues are at the forefront as vast amounts of invaluable data is being collated and can be misused if it gets to the wrong hands.”
Another significant aspect of the times we live in is social media. People upload everything, from walking down the aisle to the colour of their bathroom tiles, just for a couple of ‘likes.’ “We are going through the Great Indian Vomiting Revolution,” Duggal says. “It is a condition where we share valuable information routinely and mindlessly. Indians are under immense risk because of their reckless digital activities. We have to realise that the law clearly states that if data is provided voluntarily, one cannot cry foul, so we have to be responsible with the data we give.”
Sneha Hindocha, a counselling psychologist opines that the desperation for acceptance and appreciation is what drives people to incessantly put up every aspect of their lives online. “There is a high that people experience when they share their photographs and get appreciated for it,” says Hindocha. “What tends to get overlooked are the associated with it. Individuals should know of the consequences of their actions and draw the line accordingly.”
However, it isn’t a one-dimensional issue. Technology has managed to connect us to a whole new virtual world, one that often makes us forget the real world.
“Communication and the need for appreciation and acceptance are fundamental aspects of human life,” says J Agnes Sasitha, head of the Department of Sociology in Stella Maris College. “A lot of what we see today is reflective of the changing structure of the family in modern society. As parents are busy and don’t get to spend much time with their children, it affects the socialisation process.”
The lack of proper emotional support from family can lead to children taking inappropriate steps online. “When alienation takes place, children feel that social media will fill that void,” explains Sasitha. “They are lured by the power of ‘likes’ and will go to any extent to get them. They don’t consider if the content they are sharing is safe or unsafe, relevant or irrelevant. It is a race to gather most likes, appreciation and gratification.”
In this bid to be accepted and please, children, teenagers and adults send intimate pictures to their partners. There have been countless cases where such photos have been misused.
“When it comes to sending intimate photographs to a partner, I would think it is better to be safe than sorry and not send the pictures at all,” Hindocha says. “But there are people who are comfortable sending such pictures as they trust the person on the other end. But I have had a number of cases where pictures have been circulated among friends, causing the sender a lot of embarrassment and hurt.”
Yet, it is impossible to ignore the impact that social media has had on our day-to-day interactions. There are many who use it for business and follow simple steps to safeguard their privacy.
“Social media is a powerful tool and one that, if tapped effectively, can help me with my work,” says Alamelu Annhamalai, an artist in the city. “Since mine is a public account, I do two simple things to mitigate risks. I do not upload photos and never specify my location.”
These are two simple guidelines that experts too believe will go a long way in protecting our data. Further, they say that giving out details casually anywhere is to be entirely avoided. Experts advise citizens to use their rational thinking to mitigate, if not completely eliminate, risk.