User awareness lagging far behind technology and scamsters
At a time when the Modi sarkar is pushing hard for ‘Digital India’ programmes, the feedback received from Moneylife Foundation’s 13th July seminar on cyber fraud and privacy concerns is rather telling. The packed audience, of 200+, comprised a rather privileged, English-speaking group, with some interest in financial matters. And, yet, except a tiny segment which had some understanding of cyber crime and confidence tricks used by fraudsters, the vast majority had little knowledge beyond the very basics. For example, Dr Rakesh Goyal (director, Centre for Research & Prevention of Cyber Crimes) opened everyone’s eyes to the extent of data mined by email service-providers and search engines and its commercial value to marketers for targeted sales. And how the plethora of apps that promise to make your life simpler, with easy access to everything from taxi cabs to pizza delivery, actually get all information from your phone, including your social media posts, friends and relationships.
Most people are clueless about privacy settings and their use. But Dr Goyal says that many apps actually steal data without even bothering to obtain such permissions. He says that some, like Google and WhatsApp, which are widely used by all, declare that they can use your phone services that may cost you money.
Nandkumar Saravade, chief executive at Data Security Council of India (DSCI), who has formidable experience in cyber-crime investigations when he was in the police service, said that several bold directives by the Reserve Bank of India now protect less-savvy consumers. These include a two-stage authentication of card transaction or the directive that all cards should be issued for domestic use and international cards must be issued only on specific requests. Worryingly, he also pointed out how there is inadequate capacity and funding for law enforcement in cyber crime.
Written feedback from the attendees indicates low awareness about privacy issues. This is also evident in how most Indians have welcomed the biometrics-based Unique Identification Numbers (UIN), in sharp contrast to people in most developing countries. Our interactions through articles and social media show that most people compared Aadhar to the US social security number, but are unaware that the latter does not carry biometrics; or that Indian data is going to reside in servers abroad. In contrast, an online poll of 20,000 US adults by Forrester Research showed that 63% of American smartphone users are concerned about privacy and security.
This gung-ho attitude to the benefits of technology, without worrying about its downside, can only come at a price, especially when grievance redress in India is invariably pathetic. Most Indians are in for a first-hand learning experience about cyber fraud, identify theft and poor redress systems as is evident from the daily reports of senior government officials, actors, professionals and senior citizens who become victims, or youngsters who are lured through social media and sexually exploited or blackmailed.