Data Privacy - My Data is Mine

Do I have control over my financials, health, business and personal data that exists in my online digital footprint?

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There are an estimated 6.64 billion smartphone users, about 83% of total mobile phone users, and it is expected to reach 98% within a couple of years. This advancement has made life much easier for all. No more going to the bank to withdraw money, or having to carry a thick file of medical reports to the doctors, or going to the travel agent to plan, or carrying a thick ticket folio to the airport, or visiting various offices to recharge and refill coupons. The list is endless. Life today is as simple as sharing your happy moments (and not-so-happy ones) with your friends and followers on social media at the click of a button (on a lighter note people spend more time clicking pictures of the food than eating it). All you need is an app to do all of the above and even more - easy!

If you check your phone you will have many different apps in it and most of them doing the same thing but for different service providers. The process is similar. You select the activity that you want to do, go through the process flow, and then either your order is booked or transaction completed and the confirmation is sent to you on your email or to the app.

After that (or sometimes even during the process) every web browser that you open, and every search page that you go to will have offers of similar services from different vendors (usually cheaper). Oh Wow! Almost instantaneously - your data is not private. Your travel itinerary becomes available to most, your shopping list/habit gets available to most and whatever you are trying to do becomes common knowledge to all immediately.

In this world, there is no way to NOT leave digital footprints all over the place. From the youngest to the eldest, everyone and everywhere, except probably in the most interior jungles (that too not for very long), is generating data and creating a digital footprint - data which is “seemingly” not-so-sensitive like photographs, check-ins or activity updates in social media to very sensitive information like medical reports, bank transactions, financial transactions, et al.

Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if your sensitive information fell in the wrong hands, and even if the “seemingly” not-so-sensitive information is assimilated without your knowledge?

Consider your digital existence to be like a jigsaw puzzle with its pieces strewn across the digital galaxy. It's there and available. One just needs to put the pieces together and they will have your entire digital persona at their disposal to use as they choose - your date of birth, your phone number, your family details, your close relatives, where and what you like eating, what's your favourite vacation spot, where you were born, which car you drive or bank accounts you have (maybe even your estimated net-worth), your illnesses, and so on and so forth. If someone identifies you as a target for profiteering, your data can be easily misused, manipulated or exploited. And it is happening, not in a thriller movie, but with people around you.

The first chapter of the book written by Marc Goodman, titled “Future Crimes”, was so eerie and chilling that I could not put the book down halfway through. It referred to a real-life story of a journalist, whose entire digital existence got wiped out in one instant. That's how exposed we are today.

Let’s say that you go out for an early morning run at 6:00 am for about an hour. Well, it is something to be very proud of and you would want to share it with your friends and family. However, you should be able to limit the visibility to only the intended people and not anyone else - not to people with malafide intentions or even the advertisers of running shoes.

When you do your regular medical check-ups, it is very convenient if you can have a digital platform where the test results and doctors' prescriptions are shared and shared only amongst the intended people, like yourself and your doctor rather than the whole world. These are confidential pieces of information and very sensitive and personal. You also do not want pop-ups on your web browser suggesting different sorts of remedies and cures. Instead, you would prefer an experienced medical professional to suggest the treatment.

In the pre-digital era or during the time when we still didn't trust computers, all documents (ledgers, cheques, important files, confidential letters, pictures, financial documents and more) were duly stored in locked rooms, cupboards or vaults, and most importantly maintaining their privacy and restricted authorized access was simpler. In this digital era, with the lure of ease and convenience, privacy has gone out of the window, we do not even know where our documents are stored, let alone locking them up.

This is why privacy in the digital world is so important. This is why you should worry, think and care about privacy even if you believe “I have nothing to hide”. It is not hiding - it is “ALL INFORMATION is NOT FOR ALL”, except on a need-to-know basis.

The need for specific and specialized privacy apps exists, apps which can be trusted to store data securely and privately and be made available only to individuals or organizations that the owner would want to share with. The need is high and urgent.

There is no end to the unique situations that people might come across, where the loss of privacy may or has resulted in some loss - whatever it may be – financial loss, relationship issues, emotional stress or something else. Privacy protection is not limited to individuals. Loss of privacy and confidentiality has impacted corporations across the world with impact on business, customers, credibility and at times substantial financial losses too.

With the growing use of technology every passing day, we are getting more and more exposed as well. If we match up to the convenience of an online digital life with privacy safeguards that protect us, we may “eat the cake and have it too”. Being safe online is a continuous process because it is not easy to protect one’s identity, profile information and sensitive data from misuse, abuse or breach. What goes online once, stays online forever.


Shamik Saha

Consultant - Sales professional with 25+ years global experience in information technology and services industry. Result-oriented, people-focused, technology-obsessed and a relationship person, who believes in privacy as a fundamental right.