Major telecom mines user data secretly
Hyderabad: For the past few years, cybersecurity activists in the country have been uncomfortable with the lack of discussion about data mining and monetisation by large tech firms. Post 2016, crores have started using the internet for the first time. These citizens, activists say, do not understand the value of their private data. And companies are using this ignorance to their advantage.
The crusade against data mining has already begun in India, but there are a ways to go before it gains momentum. For instance, a Hyderabad-based group, affiliated to the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI), recently released a brow-ser plug-in for Mozilla Firefox which prevents a telecom giant’s internet services from tracking user data. This telecom giant — whose parent conglomerate has varied interests — was chosen since it has amassed cro-res of users in a short time after its launch. Developers say it is as big a concern in India as is Google, Facebook, etc across the world.
In fact, FSMI plans on launching a similar plug-in to prevent tracking by GAFAM companies in a few weeks.
Currently, this plug-in is only available on Mozilla Firefox. Google’s Chrome, which dominates the browser market, does not have an equivalent.
Mr Ranjith Raj Vasam, one of the developers who worked on the plug-in, said that Firefox, due to its open-source and not-for-profit pedigree, is more conducive to data security. Raj, who is also a representative of Mozilla in India, said Firefox was rehashing itself to compete with Chrome.
“There are many problems when it comes to Chrome. First of all, most smartphones in India use the Android OS, in which Chrome is default. Since it is part of the overall Google ecosystem, Google has easy access to all these users’ data,” he said.
Mr Raj added that Google has even been involved in anti-trust activities when it was found slowing down Google services on rival browsers.
Mr Kiran Chandra, founder general secretary of FSMI, said the private data of Indian users were being ‘plundered’ by tech companies.
He explained with an example: “If I am a patient and go to a doctor and he writes a prescription for me. In effect, this information is private due to doctor-patient confidentiality. However, if the doctor sends me a prescription or medical document via Gmail, even Google has access to my information now,” he said.
Mr Chandra said Google, or any other similar service, would be easily able to sell this data to pharmaceutical companies. “This information, which is governed by a set of laws and norms in the physical world, is being used and sold by companies without any consequence,” he said.
Mr Chandra said that one of the most important aspects of data security was educating the masses. “A lot of people don’t realise the value of their data. They don’t know how it can be misused and hence, not aware of the dangers of data mining. It is the government’s job to educate them,” he said.
Adding to this, Raj said the data privacy movement needs figureheads behind whom the people can rally. “The movement has largely become enemy-less. The people don’t understand how large tech companies are at fault. They are not seeing the big picture,” he said.
Mr Ranjith Raj, and cybersecurity activists in general, hope that more and more people will start using open-source alternatives to products developed by large tech companies. “Products like YouTube and Facebook have open-source alternatives that do not track user data. We hope people will use these more in the future,” he said.