India and the dilemma of privacy

Privacy ImageInternet is one human creation that knows no boundaries. While we can thank internet for building a level playing field for users across the globe there are cultural challenges that needs to be addressed. While working on my startup I face several privacy related decisions to be made and that’s when it struck me how India is so different than other western countries in understanding privacy.

The Indian history

If we dig deep in the Indian culture there is no great trail of privacy invasion because fewer things happen as publicly! That it can affect privacy for anyone. From burkhas to veils we have hidden much of our persona, our communication and details about the family or its culture. The concept of openly sharing data (even if non-confidential) is still nascent in India. So when not many things are open at first place and we prefer living in small ponds rather than an ocean; ‘privacy’ as a term will be less used.

Still doubt my rationale? Ask an Indian what is the Hindi word for Privacy? I attended a recent social event where the host asked girls from the slum areas whether there are any privacy related issues they face. The translator took two minutes to figure out whether there is a Hindi alternative to the word privacy.

I tried that myself with Google translate and this is how close I could reach.

Privacy in hindi via google translate

Facebook settings

On facebook you can highlight all your family members and build a family tree. Not many of us actually do that. That’s a small problem. The bigger issue is not many of us connect with relatives on facebook because that is a life reserved for friends of similar age group.

Yes there are settings on your social network to share something to a smaller circle and then a bigger circle. But hey give me a break! Did I join a social network to relax, enjoy or figure these geeky things out? Also end of day no matter how smart you are things will still leak. Won’t it?

Privacy, Confidential data and regulations

Privacy doesn’t revolve just around Facebook settings. It’s a big word indeed. But do Indians understand the risk of leaking privacy? It’s not just about laws and regulations. Do employees understand the value of the data they daily work on? And some simply sell it for a few bucks?

Let me give two examples to highlight why Indian regulations don’t work with privacy

Privacy blunder I – The car fiasco

Last month was the first anniversary of my car, which meant renewing the insurance that I had. When I bought the car everything from insurance to loan was handled by the dealer. But this time as the insurance expired I got calls from several Insurance companies. They knew who I am, my contact details, my car, its cost and the best premium they can offer. As a customer I should be happy but as a user I was worried. Here on the other side of the call is a person earning less than 5000 a month who has every single financial detail about me?

I immediately threatened my car dealer for leaking the data. To this they had a right answer that they can’t lose customer by this stupid tactic. If I continue with the same bank the dealership had less processes to follow and more commissions to earn.

So who was leaking the data? What I realized finally was that the data leaks from Government departments where the car is registered and my license number.

Privacy blunder II – The private company data

Exactly in two days after getting a confirmation that my private limited company has been registered; I received 2 parcels from Delhi which included so called important docs for the company. The catch – both the parcels were to be paid for by the receiver and the postman demanded 4000 for both. I returned the parcel back to the post office to do some due diligence.

Books parcel post company registration, clear privacy breach

I figured out that again the data got leaked from some government department and the parcel were company law books which were sent so that if I accidentally pay for the same the sale of 4000 is made. If I return the parcels they will pay a small amount for rejection, which they will consider their customer acquisition cost!

Planning privacy for the Indian Market

This post was not to highlight that Indian government is dumb, or our culture lags behind. What I wanted to highlight is – Here is a democratic country, which soon will be youngest in the world. People, who are not just connected but hooked to the internet. If you are planning some offering for this nation better think long term and be on your feet.

You can’t assume to simply copy paste those privacy policies. This is a country where some media house will slap a spicy news article on a privacy blunder; the government will start dancing and then force you to abide to a half-baked law. This

Be prepared to be think long term and still be on your toes when you think privacy for India.


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{ 1 comment }

Ramesh Bishnoi February 9, 2013 at 11:32 am

Privacy Scenario in India – Well Explained with latest live examples… Great going Himanshu.

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