Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Right to Privacy- Who is really tracking me ?

Has our privacy already been "invaded"? Who is the invader?


Who is really spying on me?



The Right to Privacy is considered by some to be as important as the Right to Live. A nine judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of  India is contemplating it’s importance – as to whether the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. In the past, 2 constitution bench of judges have ruled that Right to Privacy is not a fundamental right. Today’s ruling will have a bearing on the larger debate of the Government of India’s push to link Aadhar numbers   (numbers assigned to Indians based on their biometric and demographic data) with various services and schemes such a mobile numbers, filing of income tax returns (PAN) etc. But what’s the fuss about?

Big data is now big business. Without getting too technical, it is the process of collecting, storing and analyzing huge amounts of data (related to human behavior, processes, events etc.) to predict certain outcomes. It helps businesses beat competitions, prevent diseases, Governments frame policies and even help predict and identity potential frauds or terrorists. It’s also a brutal invasion of privacy. In the hands of the powerful, it has the potential to be an invaluable tool. But in order for it to do so, the agency needs data in the first place. This data collection can be done probably in 3 ways :
  •       With your knowledge and consent – You register your personal mobile number and address while applying for a credit card
  •       With your knowledge but without your consent – You are asked to provide your personal details while applying for a loan. You don’t want to provide them, but have to in order for the process to be completed.
  •       Without your knowledge and consent – This is a grey area and what is discussed in this blog. It’s a grey area, because the data collectors do intimate you that they are collecting your data, but in a surreptitious/ discreet manner.
Visualization created by IBM of daily Wikipedia edits . At multipleterabytes in size, the text and images of Wikipedia are an example of big data.Courtesy : Wikipedia/Author:Fernanda B.Viegas

Big data is said to have helped large organizations achieve outstanding results. As per information in the public domain :
1.      Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign was a success        largely on account of Big Data Analysis.
2.      Big Data analysis also gave the Bhartiya Janata Party an edge in winning the 2014 elections in India.
3.      The Indian Government is also said to utilize Big Data to understand the electorates' response to it’s policies and modify them accordingly.
     Various sectors worldwide rely on Big Data analysis such as manufacturing, healthcare, education, internet of yhings,technology, banking, real estate, sports, research and media. The point is , your “privacy” (depending on which aspects of your life and interactions you consider private) has apparently already been compromised. Here is a list of your very own personal potential "invaders":

    MEDIA

The Media it appears uses extensive data mining and personalized tracking not just for marketing and distribution but also for creating and shaping content. Since it is commerce driven, it appears to be one of the largest trackers of your personal information. These may include not just your address and email, but also your browsing habits, likes and dislikes as well. Imagine an artificial super intelligence, which is mapping your every move on the internet. What you click on, what time you logon to the internet, which articles you read, which movies you watch, which music you heard, which posts you liked. Your entire behavior is being mapped and then conveyed to strategists who target what kind of products you may buy based on your behavior.

What is interesting is that a lot of such trackers are apparently embedded along with news sites. Yes, the same news media channel which raises privacy concerns for you when the Government wants to link your PAN number with your AADHAR Card Number. So it appears that in all their hypocrisy, they will make you paranoid about letting the Government associate your bio-metric data with your financial details, but are happy to smugly siphon off your personal and most intimate details.
After installing anti tracking extensions and ad blockers on a few web browsers, here are some results :

Trackers at work on India Today website.

Indiatoday.in
Trackers found : 50
Tracker Names: Unruly Media, Lotame, Zedo, Teads Technology, ScoreCard Research, Criteo, Adsrvr, AppNexus, BlueKai, Connexity, Aggregate Knowledge, Taboola, New Relic +       37 others
The website refuses to display articles till your allow ads.



Trackers at work on NDTV.com


Ndtv.com
Trackers found : 22
Tracker Names: ScoreCard Research, Taboola, Adsrvr, Bluekai, Connexity, Aggregate Knowledge(neustar), ads.rubiconproject.com, zedo + 11 more

Trackers on timesofindia



http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
Trackers found : 10
Tracker Names : ScoreCard Research, Mouseflow, Criteo, +7 more

Of Course the lawyers and spokespersons will explain it away by saying that such tracking is done to "enhance user experience" and to "show more relevant ads and content". But then, how does it become an "invasion" when Governments need a person's basic and formal data?




SOCIAL MEDIA AND APPS

Social Media and other apps are not far behind. Mainstream news media, social media and allied apps seemed to have merged together to form this giant data mining conglomerate in order to access the most intimate details of our lives. You may be thinking that the latest android and iphone operating systems allow you to block your apps from accessing your data, but apparently that is not the case.
    Here is an example : 
      
The Ola App shares device information such as makes and model with Facebook for data mining purposes as per Norton


The Ola app for android sends your device data to Facebook for data mining purposes. It is by default and you need to uninstall the app in case you want to avoid this. This was detected by Norton. Although classified as “Low Privacy Risk” one wonders why Ola is interested in providing Facebook the make of the phone model used for data mining purposes.

INTERNET SEARCH ENGINES
While Google had set up features for limiting the amount of privacy data it stores, there were concerns expressed both by Privacy International and Privacy Expert at University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, Dr. Joss Wright. But at least Google did show some concern regarding user privacy. Yahoo was victim to several security breaches compromising information of more than a billion user accounts. It’s takeover by Verizon, appears to be solely to gain access to the data Yahoo had in order to compete with Google. Likewise Bing apparently had issues with “poisoned” search results as per this blog of 2012.


SERVICE PROVIDERS – INTERNET AND MOBILE 

PHONE

There is little data which can be fully secured from them. For that matter, any service provider like credit card company’s, your grocery store, your chartered accountant – everyone who can,  is in the business of logging, storing, tracking and analyzing your footprints in the hope that some big supercomputer would take all of this data and like a genie, tell them how to incite or induce you into purchasing their products.

YOUR DESKTOP

You should know that your basic operating system like Windows 10 and other software that your install on your computer has a “Privacy Policy”. More often than not, people “agree to the terms and conditions” in a hurry while installing the software. Windows 10 has informed users of the various ways it collects, uses and even passes on that user data. There are ways to restrict Windows from doing that to some extent and it’s best to Google it and understand how it’s done.

CONCLUSION : SO WHAT SHOULD BE THE DEBATE ABOUT?

The Supreme Court of India will decide whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right. Whatever the Law saws, the Right To Privacy is sacrosanct to every individual. However, most Governments are mainly concerned with maintenance of Law and Order, collection of taxes and utilization of tax payer’s money. It has little concern whether you like hot chocolate or coffee before going to bed. (At least for the time being). The media frenzy in creating a fear psychosis regarding the steps taken by the Government to link biometric data with taxation and other processes is unfounded. In fact it is the Government which should have privacy concerns regarding the extraordinarily large unregulated Private sector which has already collected, tracked, stored and analysed the most intimate details of it’s Citizens.
We all indulge in formal social conduct in our day to day interactions. It is only when buying things for ourselves,indulging in our hobbies or interacting with our friends and loved ones that we really reveal our intimate preferences. If you have been reading, watching videos, liking posts, sending messages or purchasing online, chances are, those aspects of your “privacy” have already been compromised. Instead of sweating over the Government linking one AADHAR number with some other number, it is better to debate as to whether the unregulated Private Sector enterprises, whose sole aim is to lure you into spending your money by influencing your choices, should be allowed to pry upon,store and analyse your innate personal preferences.












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