Among many other things that happened, COVID-19 pandemic upended and changed our lifestyle and that led to increased house parties, use of mobile phone , OTT shows and movies and of course weight gain, to make it in lighter vein. During one such house party with some learned friends, it came to my knowledge that Google can track our physical location even if we turn off the location services.  It does so by using information gathered from the Wi-Fi usage and other wireless signals near our phone. This ran a chill down my spine. I realized that my data is not entirely encrypted and secure, since I have an array of apps installed on my phone, which are continuously tracking my activities, data, etc.

Fortunately, the very next day was 28th January – the Data Privacy Day. I had the privilege of doing a LIVE chat with Shivangi Nadkarni and Sameer Anja, co-founders of Arrka a pioneering Data Privacy consultancy in India. Arrka also released its 5th annual report on State of Data Privacy of Indian Mobile Apps and Websites. In the report they studied Mobile Apps (IOS + Android) & Websites of 201 organisations across 25 industry sectors.

Some statistics, which I personally feel, one needs to ponder on are depicted in the info graph below:

What really gets highlighted from the above info graph, is that so many of our apps, which have access to our location and microphone, can track where we are going; what we are speaking about and so on. Also, when we are surfing, 96% of the websites have at least one tracker embedded. Having said that, all social media users are well aware that in case they search for a specific product, advertisements about those will start popping up on their search, and social platforms like Instagram, Facebook etc.

Whilst going through a study done by “Whotracksme” on web traffic, it came to light that 82% Web Traffic contains third party scrips by Google. Facebook tracks 15% of web traffic. Both Twitter and Microsoft track around 4% of the web traffic.

Though I am a helicopter mom to 2 kids, one of the highlights of the study conducted by Arrka stunned me:

I realised being paranoid is not the solution. The solution, which I think could be useful, is that we, as parents, need to be wary of what’s being downloaded by the children, read the app reviews on the app store, not to forget, carefully reading the privacy policy.

As Sameer Anja says, “An app, on your phone, can track your behaviour with others apps, and this is where the tracking transparency comes in.” Shivangi Nadkarni, on other hand, when questioned about data privacy laws in India, says, “There is a belief that privacy will prevent you from doing XYZ. The crux of privacy is that whatever you are doing with my data, at least inform me.”  There were no specific data privacy laws in India to protect an individual’s privacy in the digital age, however we are soon going to have our own Data Protection Bill, which seeks to provide protection of personal data of individuals. We also have the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act 2000), which contains provisions relating to cyber and IT aspects. However, it does not address the data protection or privacy of an individual save for one clause which is inadequate in today’s reality

So then, do we stop using the Internet or smartphones? Is that a solution to ensure personal data privacy and security? Perhaps no!

I would like to make a mention of some best practices, which, if followed, can help us ensure a better security and privacy:

  1. Delete dormant apps on the phone
  2. Log out of applications on phone and laptop/computer/tablet after using them
  3. Before downloading an app, think about:
    a)Who has made the app available and why?
    b)Is the app free? Is it by an unknown maker for a perky, even entertaining, intent or does it make good commercial sense?
    c)How does the app maker earn revenue from it?
  4. Use a password manager
  5. Be mindful of app permissions. Please select permissions “Only while using the App” and not “Always”
  6. Keep software (OS) up-to-date
  7. Regularly clear browsing history
  8. Avoid click baits
  9. Always use two factor authentication (2FA)
  10. Use VPN
  11. Also, while making a transaction make sure the browser is connected with https and not http.
  12. Avoid proxy site and proxy software

To sum up, currently there is no way to be 100% secure on the Internet and phone, however remember the golden rule, “The less data you share, the less that can be stolen.” All of us need to take measures to reduce our exposure which will help in reducing data theft and ensuring better data privacy. Privacy is the responsibility of everyone.

Remember: ‘The one way to empower ourselves in the present times is by working on our data protection and safety’.

By Smruti Gandhi

Smruti has a rich academic & professional background. After completing post graduation from S P Jain Institute of Management Studies , Smruti has worked with Dun & Bradstreet, Great Place to Work before joining Grey Head Media.

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