Online privacy in the age of smartphones


29 Mar 2017

Internet privacy: US opens doors for exploitation of users' data

In an alarming move, the US House of Representatives revoked internet privacy rules approved days before President Donald Trump's election, that made it mandatory for service providers to obtain consent before selling consumers' data.

Ironically, president of watchdog Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, welcomed the decision, blaming FCC's "overreach" for privacy concerns.

In the time of smartphones and technology, is online privacy a myth?


In the government's defence

In the government's defence

Pai said the FCC in 2016 pushed through legislation to discriminate between companies, a power it got after stripping the Federal Trade Commission of its authority.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the FCC had "attempted to adopt flawed rules…but in reality created confusion and harmed competition".

He added the latest resolution would protect "both consumers and the future of internet innovation".


UK sets a precedent in state surveillance

Last November, UK passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, termed "snooper's charter", despite a massive support for a petition for its repeal.

Among its many provisions, internet and telecom companies can store consumers' browsing history for 12 months, give security forces unprecedented access to data, and make journalists' web records easily accessible for police.

Campaigners said it would set a precedent for authoritarian regimes.

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Facebook - Not just an 'online' predator

Facebook - Not just an 'online' predator

It is common knowledge that social media giant Facebook uses account holders' information and online activity - details about you, what you like, even your friends' information - to show users targeted ads.

Not many, however, know that the company has tied up with data collection companies like Acxiom, Datalogix and Epsilon, to track people's real-life spending patterns and customize ads accordingly.


Google's wide web

Google saves every search of yours - voice and non-voice, your location, and almost all online activities to create an online profile, which commerce companies use to target ads.

The launch of Google Glass faced much backlash, as users could be recording everything around them without other people's consent and uploading information to Google's servers even without intending to.


Telecom companies cash in on 'big data'

Telecom companies cash in on 'big data'

Surveys show people trust telecom providers more than internet companies with respect to privacy; but major brands are exploiting this trust to manage and package users' data to clients.

Operators place probes in networks to capture customers' text, call and web records.

A 451 Research estimates the industry, potentially worth $24.1bn in 2015, could reach $79bn by 2020 after removal of "challenges and constraints".

Driverless cars

Self-driving cars steer the wheels

Driverless cars, which rely on advanced cameras and precise GPS location, collect large amounts of data to provide the best experiences to users; the more personalized the vehicle, the more data they collect.

It could alter preferences to advertise sponsored destinations, suggest destinations by checking emails and other details, record conversations, and more.

Manufacturers have frequently avoided questions on protecting users' privacy.


CCTVs: When 'security' footage turns into a weapon

CCTVs: When 'security' footage turns into a weapon

An oft-overlooked tool of surveillance is CCTV cameras. The not-widely-known section 66E of the Indian IT Act governs misuse, though partially.

However, trouble starts when public organizations start monitoring and abusing their access to security footages, like the several Delhi Metro footages of couples available online.

Cyber expert laws have voiced concerns over lack of stringent laws and punishment.


Aadhaar: A massive state-sponsored surveillance network?

The Indian government has pushed aside accepted laws to make Aadhaar details mandatory for filing tax returns, applying for PAN card and social welfare schemes, etc.

But its emphasis on protection of data is questionable when a simple Google search as well as few websites publicly reveal personal details without people's consent.

All this, despite the SC ruling Aadhaar cannot be made legally mandatory.

Delhi HC directed WhatsApp to delete users' data

Delhi HC asked WhatsApp to delete customers' data collected till September 25'16, when it launched a new policy allowing Facebook and other group companies access to information. WhatsApp said it would proceed "in accordance with the order", but didn't confirm whether it had deleted data.

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