Data, the center point of Digital Revolution has become an Oil-like commodity which India had got plenty on its own. But are we really equipped to handle the new Data-bloom in the digital space? With the raging Facebook Data Leak debate going on, it is high time we pay attention to the numerous social media platforms and apps in our digital devices which leech data without we even realizing it. It is crucial that we become aware of what happens to our personal information and other details stored on the web by multiple players. Personal data, starting from the crucial biometric to the seeming innocuous internet browsing data, needs to come under scrutiny when privacy is concerned.
While Privacy is a constitutionally protected right of an Individual, there are many places where we give or required to give our personal data consensually. The Government and other State Institutions, Hospitals, Financial institutes they all collect and store our personal information in some form, mostly in digital format. Owing to the structure of the society, they do have some accountability to protect the data. What about the ones which are outside the safety net of accountability? How do we ensure the security of the data we share with the private players or rather How do we ensure the security of the Data that private players collect via apps and social media? Though we give ‘consent’ to many of the data siphoning apps by clicking ‘Agreed’ to legally binding policies, who actually reads the wrapped text policies before clicking ‘Agreed’? The recent Data leak from Facebook reminds us once again that, Data is never going to be safe with private players who use Data monetization to up the dollars in their stash.
What do the small and big corporates do with the data harvested by the social media and other apps? ‘Targetted advertisement’ would be the easy one-word answer. While the small corporates may use data as a commodity to be traded and transacted, big conglomerates seemingly use the large pool of data to feed their self-evolving AI programs and data mining which eventually helps them to identify patterns and user behaviors which in turn help in better marketing. The market of Data is very vast and it reminds you of The Matrix where bioelectricity is harvested from ‘enslaved’ humans. As we unearth more and more dubious facts from Facebook and its dallying with user data, we see how deep is the surveillance web of this private players.
What if Facebook uses its own tools to scan through your messages and photos for flagged contents? How does it affect a law-abiding individual, who has nothing to hide? Now it would be the apt time to recall facebook’s one of the most notorious mood influencing project which was apparently failed and shelved due to mass protest. There is no telling how dangerous this “emotional contagion” can be considering how Facebook has spread across a range of demographics. The ability to create such illusory ideas in a user’s mind makes the big conglomerates a potential threat to the society as a whole thus calls for a high regularization of such illusionists.
We already know how the intricate algorithms can mine the data and tell about our likes, dislikes, routines, preferences, favorite actors, people we follow etc. Maybe they can even figure out our political, religious affiliations as well. But as long as the beneficiaries are the benign targetted advertisement of products only, we may even be good. But as we see, it does not strictly stick to that. Every day reports come out how Major Elections across the globe, Major decisions with larger economic impacts like Brexit, etc might have been influenced by deception of Data in Social Media. If any Organization is powerful enough to influence emotions and opinions, resourceful enough to create illusions of truth as needed, it is only matter of time before they monotonize the same.
Data sharing across multiple platforms, camouflaged as time-saving is prevalent everywhere in the Digital world, it is not limited to Facebook. The mysterious bag you added to Amazon cart which keeps following you wherever you go in the web, the targeted ads appear on every website you visit based on the google search history, we do not even pay heed to this slight invasion of privacies or not even bother to change the settings. When Google search prompts you with tailored texts based on your previous searches, when Google assistant politely reminds you of your doctor’s appointment based on a mail you receive, rather than taking it as a convenience feature, you should be wondering, whether you want billion dollar foreign conglomerates to know literally all your secrets. The way things get evolved, time is not far away when insurance companies combine data from your fitness tracker apps and your grocery list to make a profile of your health and determine your premium accordingly.
“AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy,” – Stephen Hawking
Coming down to the granular level of Data, Where is the 0s and 1s of the Data that is collected from us saved? Most of the Social Media we use in India belong to foreign Corporates who have cloud servers on foreign lands and comes under their law of the land or maybe there is still some dubiety on that. Authorized Government authorities of that country, unauthorized snipping off by hackers, we never know who has access to data. It is integral to have a legal standing for Data handled by the private players in India. There is a recent directive from Ministry of Electronics and IT, to store Government Data on Cloud servers located in India. While It is true that giving a legal boundary to data reduces the chance of Data abuse and gives some accountability to the private players about the data they harvest, it beats the idea of the borderless web. Maybe that’s why we need technologies like Blockchain with a distributed storage of information. But till those technologies come into effect, we need to have some regulations in place.
Your digital footprint reveals a lot about you. Your personal information, financial information, political and religious affiliation, many things which you may or may not want to share can be derived from your Digital footprints.Shutting off the social media and other digital platforms from our daily lives is not an option, but it is imperative for a user to know the details of what that user has consented to share and the details of Data user has shared so far. Above all, it is high time, India, with its thriving pool of engineers has its own worldly recognizable Social media platform. And as a parting quote, I leave you this.
“Big Brother is Watching You.”
― George Orwell, 1984