Help! My apps and my government know everything about me
Today, whether you want to go to a doctor, workout at a gym, open a savings account or post the Covid-19 pandemic, even to step out of your home, you need to give information about yourself on an app.
These apps, in varying degrees, collect extremely private information about us. These include- fingerprints, location, bank details, income, photos, signatures, mails and messages. In other words, they collect the sum of our identities.
In the last decade, the Indian government took on the onerous task of giving each citizen an identity document (called an Aadhar card) to unify the various different documents before it- such as passports, driver’s licenses, voter ids etc. The idea behind this was to refresh information on every citizen and bring citizens without any of these documents under the same umbrella. It was a mammoth exercise for a country of 1.3 billion people.
Everyone was to give a range of biometrics- iris scans, face scans, fingerprints of all fingers. This activity was also outsourced to a leading technology provider from the private sector. For those of us who were aware of the risks of identity theft, it instilled some fear in enrolling for this.
But the government kept increasing the benefits for signing up — easy loans, easy subsidy transfers, easy insurance etc. It even made it mandatory to link bank accounts and mobile numbers to Aadhar. So everyone had no choice but to give in and sign up.
Then came apps and smartphones want to collect our biometrics in the name of convenience. Apple and Google wanted us to be able to unlock our phones and buy things at the touch of our thumbs and collected our prints. My gym wanted me to be able to sign-in instantly, so collected my prints. My office wanted to mark my attendance without issuing chip cards, so they collected my prints. At this point, my prints are with the government and about 5 other companies. Not to mention social media that follows me online constantly.
Now fast forward to 2020- the coronavirus has hit — words such as contact tracing and quarantining have entered our daily lives. The government is insisting I download and app that will track my location every second and alert me if I am near someone who is high risk. So now, in addition to my biometrics, they are tracking my whereabouts all the time.
We now have a choice- whether to give in and accept that our identity is out there with private and government players and hopefully would never be misused, or lying awake at night paralysed with the fear of an identity theft/financial theft/criminal activity.
In our living room discussions, we simulated a possibility that our worst fears come true. That someone who wants to steal our money or our property, impersonated us and fooled the bank or stalked us with our location.
There were two streams of thought, one is as follows-
Indifference and Rationalising the risks
- Anyone who wanted to do that, can do it today as well. They may not hack into our bank accounts without some skill, but can try phishing scams or the like.
- People can forge documents. They may not be able to forge biometrics but simple forgery and theft is possible.
- Stalking is a physical activity- if someone knows where we live, they can stalk us. Yes I know, the dark side of technology increases a stalkers reach and ability to harass but the risk remains the same.
Fearing the risks and opting out
- You lose out on conveniences that save your time- need to physically give documents for loans and insurance, need to enter a passcode to unlock your phone everytime, need to track your portfolios manually.
- You cannot assess if you are in contact with a coronavirus infected person.
- You cannot access your favourite gym, or visit a good hospital (which happens to force your to give biometrics).
- You cannot mark attendance at work and inconvenience your company.
- You cannot be in touch with your friends on social media.
Overwhelmingly, we are forced to give in these days and letting go the control on our data. Our precious privacy has become a bargaining chip in increasing our convenient lives. One can only dive-in and hope that the odds favour us in escaping threats and hacks and identity thefts. Agree?