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83pc of university students unaware of companies’ access to smart devices data

Updated March 15, 2019


Survey asked 500 students if they knew data on their devices could be accessed by service providers, software companies. — AP/File
Survey asked 500 students if they knew data on their devices could be accessed by service providers, software companies. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: A recent survey has found that 83pc of university students are unaware that data on smart devices is accessed by service providers and software companies, and that they are authorised to share this data with third parties.

They were also unaware that data collected through mobile phones, televisions and wearable devices can be hacked and misused.

The survey had a sample size of 500 students, and was conducted by The Network for Consumer Protection to commemorate World Consumer Rights Day, which is observed on March 15.

Survey asked 500 students if they knew data on their devices could be accessed by service providers, software companies and shared with third parties

The Network CEO Nadeem Iqbal told Dawn that 150 million smartphones are used in Pakistan, around 70pc are used by people between the ages of 21 and 30.

“We asked the students if they were aware that the data available on their devices can be accessed by service providers and that while downloading every software, consumers sign a no objection letter under which the device can be accessed and data can be handed over to third parties,” Mr Iqbal said.

He said 83pc of students were unaware that their data could be accessed and that they sign data access agreements with service providers.

“It is a fact that smart devices, including toys, monitor a number of activities such as pulse rate, diabetes, heart rate, and data is not only collected but also shared with third parties,” he said.

Mr Iqbal also said that collected data can be hacked, and referenced a complaint received by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) alleging that the bank data of more than 1,000 people was hacked.

“We want to say that smart devices are necessary, but they are not trustworthy. Consumers need to ensure that their data is not hacked and they should use security measures. We have also written a letter to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to look into the issue,” he said.

He said Pakistan is one of five countries where the number of smart devices is increasing by leaps and bounds, and the government should make that there is a policy for consumer rights.

According to a statement, by 2025 72pc of internet users will be accessing the internet exclusively through mobile phones. Around half of these new users will come from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Last year, the Ministry of Interior informed the Senate that 1,244 complaints were received in the first 10 months of 2018 regarding unauthorised transactions made through ATMs and internet banking fund transfers.

The Network’s letter to the PTA recommends ensuring that consumers have access to affordable, high quality, high speed internet connections, and that consumer’s connected products should be sold with basic security as standard and updates should be provided for a reasonable period after the sale so that hackers cannot access consumer data or alter the functionality of the product.

“Consumers’ privacy and data protection rights must be appropriately protected and upheld to address potential harms such as discriminatory practices, invasive marketing, loss of privacy and security breaches. Connected products should abide by interoperable and compatible device and software standards to avoid lock-in effects and enhance consumers’ ability to compare and switch providers easily,” letter states.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019