Data Privacy 101: “You think you are buying products, but you are the product”4 min read

February 7, 2020 3 min read


Data Privacy 101: “You think you are buying products, but you are the product”4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

MANIPAL: Information privacy and security is a major topic of deliberation nowadays. The breach of one’s personal data at the hands of companies and organisations is not shrouded to the world anymore. Taking this topic up for discussion and sharing awareness about it, the public speaking club of Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT), Blank 101, in collaboration with Manipal Information Security Team (MIST) and IECSE, the Official Computer Science Club of Manipal, organised a talk titled Data Privacy 101 on February 5 at the MIT Campus.

The talk started off with an introduction and discussed something everybody is familiar with; the Aadhar Card which consists of all biometric information of an individual starting from their names to their fingerprint and iris scans. The idea of a Unique Identification Number (UIN) and all matters related to it was elaborated on. A case study was projected that showed how an individual’s UIN can be used to get access to their personal data. The technical issues of the Aadhar and its misuse were presented. 

The data collection process on Facebook, Instagram and other sites was the next topic of discussion. The function of a captcha and how it is used to label data was explained. The process by which these sites collect an individual’s data and the algorithm which helps them distinguish and segregate their choices are the way in which these organisations make money. “We think we are buying their products? It’s we who are the products.”

After the news of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook broke in 2018, where it was revealed to the public that Cambridge Analytica was found to be harvesting personal user data of around 87 million people without their knowledge or consent, the talk moved to familiarise the audience with how various platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, amongst others, maintain and keep track of everyone’s activities. The audience was told that one even has access to information about where they are accessing the sites from. This information is stored in something which has a “very cute and harmless name – cookies.” It often happens that when we are shopping online or viewing products, the next time we access or use some other app we see pop-ups or ads of those sites and the same products we had viewed. This is the concept of targeted audience and cookies helps in containing that information. 

One may ask why technology companies are so keen on collecting data about us or why are they going an extra mile just to know more about their users. One answer could be that these companies make most of their money by the exchange and storage of information of users amongst themselves. Another explanation would be how data about our choices, preferences and demands help them in building their market or helping them in gaining profit.

An example of this target-based influence would be Brexit. In 2015, 40% of people wanted Brexit to happen, 44% didn’t want it to happen and 12-15% didn’t have any stance for or against. It was the last category the ads campaigns targeted. Two apps – BeLeave and Vote Leave worked to target the young minds and the minorities respectively. As a result, in 2016, 52% people voted to leave the European Union and 48% wanted to remain in the same.  

The situation of data and information in countries like China are different from the rest of the world. There are reasonable controls and restrictions on the data provided to the people there. A brief on how the data is controlled and provided was shown by the students followed by giving various examples. The government also makes sure to control the search histories and end results of its citizens. Views on health data and its pros and cons were also put forth. A detailed explanation of centralised and decentralised networks was provided to the students. The workings of both along with their advantages and disadvantages were elaborated upon.

There was a step-by-step instruction given by one of the speakers on how to do the bare minimum from our side to prevent being exposed to the world where there is no data privacy. Preventive measures were suggested that would make one less susceptible to giving away too much unknowingly. 

“A lot of illegal operations are taking place and if not for scandals like the Cambridge Analytica or Brexit targeting, we wouldn’t have been able to know about the other side of what is happening,” said Saudhin Rauthrai of IECSE. He also added, “The older generation who has access to internet reads a lot of news and is aware of what is happening around them. However, news in this scenario doesn’t show the dark side of the internet. People should know about this and talk more about it.” While talking to the organiser of the event, Praneeth Ratnagiri said that he thinks that the topic is the need of the hour as people often take it very carelessly.


Featured Image Courtesy: Varun Vyas

Edited by: Nayanatara Jacob