It’s Time India Got Creeped Out by Online Privacy Invasion

Despite increasing cyber attack incidents globally, India still doesn’t have Internet privacy laws in place.

Updated
Tech News
3 min read
In the wake of the Ashley Madison hack and a year after 5 million Gmail IDs and passwords were leaked, online privacy should probably be a big deal. (Photo: iStock)

Recently, I uploaded some photographs to Facebook like any other Indian twenty-something. But things got weird fast when Facebook prompted me to tag one of my friends in the photo with absolutely no input from me — I felt like I was in some sort of strange futuristic spy movie.

I can almost hear the collective, “So what?”

Let me put it this way.

When I show another person a photograph and she says, “Hey, isn’t that your friend, Dhara?”, I’d probably respond with “Why, yes, it is. How wonderful that you remembered. Here, have another beer. On me.”

But, when a faceless social network on the Internet asks me the same question based on an algorithm written by people who don’t know me drawing from information stored in unidentifiable and inaccessible databases? Yes, I feel like I’ve stepped into an apocalyptic sci-fi film.

Facebook prompted me to tag one of my friends in the photo with absolutely no input from me. (Photo: Reuters)
Facebook prompted me to tag one of my friends in the photo with absolutely no input from me. (Photo: Reuters)

Globally, Online Privacy is a Big Deal

In the wake of the Ashley Madison hack and a year after 5 million Gmail IDs and passwords were leaked, online privacy should probably be a big deal. But the problem is that most people still don’t think so.

Facebook is facing lawsuits in the United States of America for its facial recognition feature and the company refrained from introducing it in Europe, because the governments and people of the continent have, in the past, made their dislike of potentially intrusive data storage known.

India is a Different Story

India is yet to wake up to the fact that privacy concerns need to be urgently addressed. Most likely, the government will wait for something big to happen before it decides that some kind of action needs to be taken.

A good example of how India reacts to new technological developments is the app-based cab service industry. Uber, Ola and TaxiForSure worked their way into the Indian mainstream, but after the infamous Uber rape case, the government banned all these services in a knee-jerk reaction without the means to enforce such a ban. The cabs still run but now cops can stop them, impose heavy fines and impound the vehicles, leaving the passengers stranded.

But, with 354 million Internet users in the country, it’s time India wakes up to the very real dangers of compromised online privacy.

India’s Huge Online Presence Means Huge Privacy Concerns

India is Facebook’s second largest market globally with a user base of 125 million. According to Facebook’s own head of Products (Facebook Lite), Vijay Shankar, 59 million users access Facebook on a daily basis.

India has begun to witness a growing narrative around cyber security. The debate about Section 66A which gave the State sweeping powers to arrest those whose online posts were deemed offensive led to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike it down as an infringement of the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Another debate that recently took centre-stage was about Net Neutrality, a concept that was broken down into easy byte-sized pieces for the Indian audience to garner support for preserving equal access to all parts of the Internet.

 The Net Neutrality debate recently took centre-stage in India. (Photo: iStock)
The Net Neutrality debate recently took centre-stage in India. (Photo: iStock)

But online privacy still hasn’t caught the attention of users in India who don’t seem to hesitate before sharing any aspect of their lives on their virtual profiles.

Remember, Facebook already knows a lot about you but now it may not even need to see your face to recognise you in a photo. The company is trying to improve its facial recognition software by developing an algorithm based on characteristics of people like hair, personal style and body shape.

Still not creeped out?

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