All Your Per­sonal Data Up for Sale for Less than a .₹

It costs just .₹ 15,000 to get de­tails like name, age, ad­dress, in­come, etc, of 1 lakh peo­ple

The Economic Times - - Front Page -

Ben­galuru | New Delhi: If data is the new oil, then there is a gi­gan­tic oil spill all around you. Your per­sonal data — be it your res­i­den­tial ad­dress, your phone num­ber, email id, de­tails of what you bought on­line, age, mar­i­tal sta­tus, in­come and pro­fes­sion — is all up for sale. Most of this per­sonal data is sold for less than a ru­pee per per­son — the cost of a chew­ing gum. Over one month, ET ap­proached com­pa­nies called ‘data bro­kers’ — who hawk their ser­vices on on­line list­ings and sell per­sonal in­for­ma­tion — pos­ing as a prospec­tive buyer. For any­where be­tween .₹ 10,000 and .₹ 15,000, we were of­fered per­sonal data of up to 1 lakh peo­ple in Ben­galuru, Hy­der­abad and Delhi.

The lists up for sale are cre­ative and gran­u­lar. One data bro­ker said he could get lists of high net worth in­di­vid­u­als, salaried peo­ple, credit card hold­ers, car own­ers and re­tired women in any given vicin­ity. Some bro­kers sent free sam­ples: ex­cel sheets with per­sonal data of peo­ple in Ben­galuru, split by ad­dress and in­come pro­files. ET called a dozen peo­ple from these lists to ver­ify their de­tails. “It’s scary to say the least,” said Hy­der­abad-based Ra­jashekar, whose data like name, ad­dress and credit card own­er­ship was pro­cured from a Gur­gaon-based data bro­ker who sold ET a sam­ple data­base of nearly 3,000 peo­ple with Axis Bank and HDFC Bank credit cards. The price tag: .₹ 1,000.

The data­base had de­tails like name, ad­dress, phone num­ber and the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the card (debit, credit or a pre­mium card). The bro­ker also said that a data­base of 1.7 lakh peo­ple from Delhi, NCR and Ben­galuru can be made avail­able for .₹ 7,000.

How to

“It should be deemed as a crime. Without my per­mis­sion, how can some­one trade in­for­ma­tion re­lated to me?” said Ben­galuru-based Na­garaj BK, who was ap­palled that de­tails of his pur­chase of a gas stove on eBay were pro­cured by ET as part of a free sam­ple. Sim­i­larly, Ben­galuru-based Shruti’s pur­chase of lug­gage on Ama­zon, along with her phone num­ber, was part of a free list of 115 on­line pur­chases made from the city. When con­tacted to check if the pur­chase listed was ac­cu­rate, Shruti was of­fended and scared and even won­dered if her Ama­zon ac­count had been breached.

In re­sponse to ET’s queries, eBay said it takes data se­cu­rity and pri­vacy of buy­ers and sell­ers on its plat­form very se­ri­ously. An Ama­zon spokesper­son said the com­pany was not aware of any data leak or any data be­ing sold from their end, adding that any such case brought to their no­tice will be dealt with strictly to en­sure cus­tomer data pro­tec­tion. HDFC Bank and Axis Bank both said they work on ed­u­cat­ing cus­tomers about the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing pri­vate or per­sonal de­tails, as well as safe bank­ing prac­tices. “We can’t con­firm the au­then­tic­ity of the data shared with you by the data bro­kers and would urge peo­ple to high­light to us if they come across in­stances like this for us to take it up with the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties,” an Axis Bank spokesper­son said.

The ob­vi­ous ques­tion to ask is: where are these bro­kers get­ting the data from? “Most of the data is sold to us by mo­bile ser­vice providers, agents from hospi­tals and banks, loan agents, car deal­ers,” Ra­jesh, an ex­ec­u­tive from an NCR-based data bro­ker, told ET.

To be sure, data broking isn’t il­le­gal but it does work in a grey zone. A 2014 US Fed- eral Trade Com­mis­sion re­port iden­ti­fied data bro­kers as com­pa­nies that “ob­tain and share vast amount of con­sumer in­for­ma­tion, typ­i­cally be­hind the scenes, without con­sumer knowl­edge.”

“Glob­ally, data broking is an ap­prox­i­mately $200-bil­lion in­dus­try. Mar­ket­ing prod­ucts gen­er­ate over 50% rev­enue, fol­lowed by risk mit­i­ga­tion, which con­sti­tutes ap­prox­i­mately 45% of the rev­enue, and, fi­nally, peo­ple search con­sti­tutes the re­main­der,” says Kan­nan Si­va­sub­ra­ma­nian, VP of re­search firm Aranca.

The FTC re­port cited ear­lier said “data bro­kers op­er­ate with a fun­da­men­tal lack of trans­parency,” and asked US law­mak­ers to con­sider en­act­ing leg­is­la­tion to give con­sumers greater con­trol over the im­mense amount of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion about them col­lected and shared by data bro­kers. In­dia’s IT Act does not specif­i­cally ad­dress the is­sue of data bro­ker­age and pri­vacy.

“When you sign up for free dis­counts, fill out ques­tion­naires, or your click­stream in gen­eral, you are giv­ing up all the data vol­un­tar­ily and agree­ing to pri­vacy poli­cies that al­low you to do so,” said Mishi Choud­hary, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of non­profit le­gal ser­vices or­gan­i­sa­tion Soft­ware Free­dom Law Cen­tre.

The most ob­vi­ous kind of mis­use is of fi­nan­cial data. The Reserve Bank of In­dia regis­tered 8,689 cases of frauds in­volv­ing credit cards, ATM/debit cards and in­ter­net bank­ing up till De­cem­ber 2016. This num­ber was 16,468 in 2015-16. Many of these frauds are per­pe­trated by scam­sters by us­ing freely avail­able per­sonal data to win the con­fi­dence of cus­tomers to get them to share crit­i­cal data like CVVs or one-time pass­words (OTPs).

How­ever, data bro­ker­age is still at a very nascent stage in In­dia. The mar­ket is dom­i­nated by larger in­ter­na­tional play­ers such as Ep­silon, Equifax and Ex­pe­rian that of­fer more so­phis­ti­cated data sets.

John Young, US-based Ep­silon’s chief an­a­lyt­ics of­fi­cer, told ET that the data they col­lect com­prise cus­tomers’ pre­vi­ous trans­ac­tions from PoS (point-of-sale) sys­tems, third-party data such as de­mo­graphic and life­style in­for­ma­tion.

“In­creas­ingly, data from so­cial me­dia sites – much of it un­struc­tured data, such as tweets – is col­lected for an­a­lyt­ics that can help deepen the un­der­stand­ing of con­sumers,” Young told ET in an email re­sponse.

Data col­lected by agen­cies such USbased Equifax Credit In­for­ma­tion Com­pany, who carry out con­sumer credit re­port­ing, is an ex­am­ple of data con­trib­uted by banks and other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.

“All the data in credit bureau is con­trib­uted to di­rectly from our mem­ber fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in a stan­dard for­mat. We do not col­lect any ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion from users di­rectly,” Manu Se­h­gal, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment leader, emerg­ing mar­kets, told ET.

Ari­tra Sarkhel & Neha Alawadhi ANIR­BAN

achieve the right mix of peo­ple and ma­chines is the crit­i­cal tal­ent ques­tion of our age mul­ti­ple fu­tures HR func­tion for the re­cruit­ment chal­lenge

ET AR­CHIVES

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