Centre for Internet & Society

More people are becoming aware of the risks that come with online habits.

The article by Evelyn Fok & Krithika Krishnamurthy published in the Times of India on April 25, 2015 quotes CIS research on Privacy.

Thejesh GN, a Bangalore-based technologist, does not have a Facebook app on his phone, often browses on incognito mode and has installed a tool that detects and blocks spy ads and trackers. All this is to escape from the pervasive ads that have now begun to invade his online presence.

But Thejesh knows it's of little use. Given the proliferation of ecommerce companies in India, the barrage of ads are unlikely to stop.

“It's an everyday fight.There is no way to get rid of all these ads,“ said Thejesh, cofounder of data science community Datameet.

Thejesh represents a growing population of Internet users who are becoming aware of the risks that come with their online habits specifically, having each data point of their everyday lives collected by companies and tech startups. This includes an individual's IP address, browser type, pages viewed, and the date and time of use.On mobile, the data collected could be more elaborate and accurate ­ including a user's location, device type and contact list.

Where does all this data go?
Some are sold to brands via ad networks, and others are used by companies to streamline the ads shown to specific users. In India there are no rules explicitly regulating online behavioural advertising, and thus it is not clear what practices different companies and internet service providers undertake. It is not clear what information is collected, how the information is used, how long the information is stored for, and what access law enforcement has to this information, the Center for Internet and Society said in a report titled `Consumer Privacy'.

Siddharth Shankar, a student of statistics from Patna University, who is also learning ethical hacking, is of the view that few people care about privacy in India. “Their simple reply: What will they do with our data?“ said Shankar, who takes steps similar to Thejesh to protect his privacy online.

More people seem to be waking up to the fact that privacy is important and that ads are intrusive. Of the 50 million users who block ads using AdBlock Plus, about 1.2 million are from India. AdBlock Plus, a mobile and browser tool, recently won a case against two publishers in Germany who wanted it to stop blocking ads on their websites. Most digital products, including apps and content, are free. To sustain themselves, the digital product makers sell the data they collect at the time of app installs or website visits to brands or ad networks.In other words, the end-users are not their customers ­­ advertisers are.

“It boils down to, `If you are not paying for the product, you are the product,'“ said Vinod Chandrashekhar, chapter leader of DataKind Bangalore, a movement to use big data for the benefit of public causes. “I won't be surprised in the future if a few firms might charge to erase your data.“

And that, he says, is one of the popular ways for restaurant and company review apps to make money: prompting owners to buy a premier account or be charged for ad vertising in order to delete unfavourable reviews.

Privacy breaches also give way to corporate espionage.

“The South Asian market is, in many ways, similar to what we're seeing in South America. They are looking for not only security for their businesses and for their own personal affairs, but they are also looking for something that is affordable,“ said Jon Callas, cofounder and chief technology officer at Silent Circle.

The Swiss-based firm provides an end-toend secure access channel ­­ from a smartphone to a telecommunication network ­­ allowing users to go about their daily lives without leaking their online footprint.