With social media and cheap Internet connectivity revolutionizing the way people consume content, cyber law experts are raising concerns over lack of data privacy. Cyber law expert Mahendra Limaye says social media giant Facebook’s settlement of $5 billion in a privacy case in US, and the decision not to challenge it in a higher court, is proof that the data it controls is worth much more. Limaye says the Indian government needs to act now and take stern steps to safeguard data of its citizens.
Excerpts from an interview…
Q. What exactly is the issue that you think should raise red flags for all of us?
A. We should be worried about data leakage from Indian agencies and how data is being used by giants like Facebook and Google. When data of every third person on globe is compromised by FB and every fifth person by Google, we are keeping mum on it. FB recently settled for a $5 billion fine in US for privacy violations, the biggest for a social media platform, rather than appeal against it. Why? Obviously because it does not want to bring its data bank and what it does with that data into public domain. FB reaches out almost 1/3 of the entire population on this planet, so the data it controls significant.
Q. What exactly is the Indian government doing about which you are not too happy?
A. No strong follow-up at all by the government. Way back in 2014, FB had promised to set up a server in India so that at least our data does not flow into foreign lands directly. Till date nothing of this sort has been done and one can say that FB does not take any warning from the Indian government seriously. This attitude of FB, to ignore stern warnings, is seen across the world. For now the government is relying only of assurances from FB, which are definitely false promises, to strengthen the infrastructure in India so that individual data is more secured. In the meantime, the social media giant continues to reach out to more people and get access to their personal data.
Q. And you think in India these things are not being discussed?
A. We Indians are still silent on it and are freely allowing these social media giants access to our personal data. What we are collectively losing is not bothering us as FB and Google are sponsors of major events in India. It’s time that we should be collectively more vocal on this issue.
Q. So, our privacy laws are ineffective.
A. To be honest there are no privacy laws in place in India. The Data Protection Law bill is pending before Indian Parliament. Our last relief lies with Indian Constitution and which was very well explored in Puttuswamy Case recently wherein Hon Supreme Court has held that Privacy is fundamental right. As we are having no strong privacy laws it is easier for FB to manipulate with Indian Market. People should know that FB is facing such data privacy litigation across world in almost eight different countries.
Q. Is India going soft on FB?
A. Facebook, which is charged with violation of privacy in USA and agreed for compromise settlement clearly indicates that it was guilty and involved in violation of data privacy of the individuals. This privacy violation was not restricted to USA but affecting netizen across the globe. Unfortunately, India being one of the largest users of FB has not thought deeply in this issue. By welcoming FB to India, the country is jeopardizing privacy of Indian citizen and hence this opposition.
Q. Is FB the sole company to be doing this or are there more?
A. All social media companies are following these practices. Google is having different module and it is utilizing various inherent permissions users provide in consenting for location search or app download etc. If you go through business module of all these companies, their majority of revenue comes from advertisement and who are advertising on Google or FB? The companies which are interested in data of people are only advertising on Google and hence it can be deduced that all social media giants as well as search engines are invading privacy of individuals and compromising privacy of individuals.
Q. What changes are needed to overcome these problems?
A. India should have strict data privacy Laws that requires all companies like Google, Yahoo, FB, WA etc to set up their servers in India. This way data can be geographically aggregated and effectively regulated. People should be made more aware about modus operandi of data invasion and made to be more educated about protection of their private information. It is belief of the net users that our digital footprints are not watched by anyone and there is no harm in visiting any websites secretly and this is greatest mistake.―Times of India