Data protection

March 18, 2019

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SMART devices can make their users feel they have access to the world at the tips of their fingers. However, a recent survey indicates that many young Pakistanis do not realise that these gadgets can also be a gateway for the world to access their personal data. According to the results of the exercise, 83pc of the sample size of 500 university students were unaware that data on smart devices can be obtained by service providers and software companies who share this information with third parties. Ironically, in many cases the users themselves unwittingly give permission for them to do so by paying scant attention to consent forms before they agree to them. It does not help that the privacy policies of some of the most popular social platforms are, arguably by design, 9,000 words or longer.

The negative implications of smart technology are making themselves felt in ways not foreseen until now. Inadequately protected personal information can be used for data mining by marketing companies, research organisations, etc, sometimes to serve blatantly unethical, even illegal ends. One of the most infamous examples of this nature was of course the harvesting of millions of Facebook users’ profile data for political purposes in the last US presidential election. There can also be social and psychological repercussions: careless data protection can put individuals at higher risk of cyberbullying and blackmail. With the rapidly expanding market for smart devices in Pakistan, people — especially the youth who are the most avid consumers of such gadgets — must take measures to protect themselves in the digital world. To that end, they should maintain high privacy settings on their smart devices; promptly instal security updates; secure their home WiFi networks; disable microphones and cameras when not using them; create ‘strong’ passwords, etc. The authorities too must enforce the provisions of the cybercrime law that criminalise unauthorised use of identity information. The risk of data theft is ever-present; the least one can do is not make it easy.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2019