Digitisation For Selling Privacy!

Big Brother is Watching you

(Even though digitisation of various services has helped a lot yet it has adversely affected personal privacy)

The Facebook/Analytica scam has shaken the digital world. There are allegations about the use of personal data during last US elections. According to the expose the information about people is being collected, stored and processed to produce psychographic profiles that can judge peoples’ thoughts and personalities almost accurately and these are offered to clients for business or electoral purposes. There were also reports about the Facebook selling personal data of the users to various commercial organisations though advertisements. In fact, Google too has been accused of using personal data of its users for commercial purposes. It is a fact that with the progress of digitisation and especially the information highway of internet, the individual privacy has taken a direct hit. Fred Cate in his book “Privacy in the Information Age” says, “Electronic information networks offer extraordinary advantages to business, government, and individuals in terms of power, capacity, speed, accessibility, and cost. But these same capabilities present substantial privacy issues. With an unprecedented amount of data available in digital format–which is easier and less expensive to access, manipulate, and store–others know more about you than ever before.Consider this: data routinely collected about you includes your health, credit, marital, educational, and employment histories; the times and telephone numbers of every call you make and receive; the magazines you subscribe to and the books your borrow from the library; your cash withdrawals; your purchases by credit card or check; your electronic mail and telephone messages; where you go on the World Wide Web. The ramifications of such a readily accessible storehouse of information are astonishing.”

Parminder Jeet Singh in an article in Hindu says. “The current focus on the right to privacy is based on some new realities of the digital age. Personal spaces and safeties that were previously granted simply by physical separation are no longer protected. The digital network enters the most proximate spaces and challenges the normally accepted notions of the private. It brings into focus new means of exercising social, economic, and political power, and reducing of autonomies”.

Thus the digital revolution has adversely affected the personal privacy all over the world. It is said that Google and Facebook do not sell the personal data but they use the same to advance their commercial interests through advertisements. It has been established now that companies are making money from the personal data of people. They share the data among themselves. Harvesting of data and its sharing for commercial purposes has been admitted by the companies themselves. Recently, there was a humorous clip on WhatsApp in which a man orders a Pizza to a well-known Pizza joint of which the man had the phone number. However, a man responds saying it is Google Pizza and what he would like. The guy says that he did not call Google Pizza. The man answers that the Google has bought the Pizza joint. Then he asks suggestions for various ingredients. When the man asks for meat and other things, the Pizza man says he cannot take meat as his cholesterol was high in the last tests. On being asked how he knows that, the Pizza guy says we have all your tests for the whole year!

Apart from demolition of individual privacy, the digitisation has given rise to accurate and incredible electronic surveillance. Sometime back there was a Hollywood movie, “The Enemy of the State”. It related to a video tape of a crime committed on the instance of a senator. The electronic surveillance shown in the movie was incredible. A person supposed to be holding the tape is followed through satellites. His every movement is monitored. Recently, there was a scare in Kashmir that the LED Bulbs being given free have camera chips inside! The quick location of militants is also attributed to electronic surveillance through drones and chips in mobile phone sim cards. Some people allege that the SIM cards of a particular company distributed freely did also have chip for easy location! Nothing seems to be hidden now!

Now, coming back home, the greatest privacy demolisher is the Aadhaar Card. It carries information which can be shared. There have been allegations about the leakage of data against consideration. UIDAI is a central body and it had outsourced the responsibility of collecting the data to 556 private agencies. There have been 1,390 complaints against them. In addition, the entire data is reported to be stored on servers in the Silicon Valley of USA!However, in comparison to personal data available in various social sites and search engines like google, the Aadhaar Card carries the entire biometric information of a person. Finger prints, pupil scans, and may be even genetic information and so on. There are umpteen chances of misuse of this data for banking frauds, impersonation and so on. Such instances have already taken place. In Mumbai some people have been using finger prints taken on nylon strips to mark attendance etc. Some people say that this digitisation has helped more than 80% of the population which is poor especially in regard to subsidies etc. According to them only 1 or 2% people who are net savvy get adversely affected sometimes. In any case, the digitisation has ended the privacy in all societies. In fact one is reminded of George Orwell’s famous book, 1984. “The Big Brother Is Watching You”, all the time!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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