In a capitalistic age where a user is an ultimate consumer, our habits are most valuable to companies. They track our habits to effectively sell us products that will turn them a large profit and they do this simply by tracking our every move. Collecting our sensitive information gives such companies a deeper insight into who we are as a consumer and while certain information is integral in their functioning, they have been known to dangerously abuse this right. Many of us have faced this when we google search about a product only to have it recommended to us on our social media by the companies that sell them!
On October 8, Bharti Airtel had updated it’s private policy online and it immediately caught everyone’s attention for all the wrong reasons. The Airtel website said that it may collect all kind’s of a user’s sensitive data, such as the their ethnicity, race, political opinions, religious beliefs , sexual orientation and even share it with other authorised third parties !
Several users, across various platforms online noticed these details and began sharing it to educate the public on this contentious new update which seemed to give its users absolutely no privacy.
However, Airtel was quick to respond and issued statements saying “The policy mentions expansive definitions which may not be warranted and can be misconstrued. We’ll re-evaluate the Policy and make necessary amends.”
That statement is in fact true and while Indian telco companies are required by law to collect, store and share a user’s information, there is a guideline on what kind of information should be collected and who it should be shared with. As of now, they are authorised to collect a user’s call related information and share it with The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and/or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
As far as a user’s personal information goes, telcos have been known to collect demographic details such as name, contact info, proof of identity etc. Jio and Vodafone (Vi) both, have been transparent in their collection of such data but their disclaimer is dubious with them mentioning “Sensitive Personal Information may include but not limited to..” which means they do have access to our private information as well as the power to share it with other third parties.
While an Indian citizen is entitled to the fundamental right of privacy, it’s execution is a highly contested debate. There are no straightforward guidelines on how businesses should handle data causing several of them to infringe upon a user’s private data. A need for data protection laws has become necessary and this is exactly what the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP) was trying to achieve. Obtaining consent from the user about exactly what kind of data will be accessed, stored and shared should be a companies main priority. It should also give user’s the option of opting out of sharing such information if they wished to.
In a shocking study of over 47 countries, India was deemed in the bottom three in matters of protecting it's citizens private information. Lack of clear-cut laws and data protection policies has left us vulnerable to be taken advantage of. Till such laws and policies come into place, guess we should all be mindful and read the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of all the applications that we download and give our information to.