Dangers of the digital world

Digitization of data and their electronic transmission brought about a revolution in man’s day-to-day life. The Internet opened the information superhighway. If one had a computer connected to the Internet, then at the flick of a button one could access information on any subject under the sun. Then came FaceBook, Twitter, WhatsApp and all the rest of it. Personal details of an individual could be easily accessed. These data could be used for any purpose or shared with or sold to anyone. Technically, unauthorized access to data and their sharing was not allowed but that was only a formality. In actual practice all data could be accessed or stolen by anyone who had the required tools used in information technology or the right software designed to order.
The ongoing war between the Congress and the BJP about so-called “data theft” has made at least one thing plain. All data electronically stored can be accessed and used without the knowledge and consent of the individuals concerned and put to any use – from finding out his preferences for consumer goods to his political proclivities or even his mental make-up. The details of the activities of the Cambridge Analytica that have now come out in the public domain have revealed that when such a firm undertakes a ‘survey’ for a ‘client’ (usually a political party) they do their job very thoroughly. Even the movements of an interviewee’s facial muscles are critically analysed to ascertain whether he is telling the truth or lying. Then the result of the survey is sold to the ‘client’ who had engaged the firm. It is a purely commercial deal without any ideological commitment to any party on the part of the organization doing the survey. Dissimulation is freely resorted to. One gives the impression that one is working for party ‘A’ while actually working for party ‘B’, just like ‘false flag recruitment’ by an intelligence agency.
While the use of Internet and other digital applications cannot be avoided in today’s world, users of Internet and electronic transmission of data have to guard against their likely misuse or abuse, as far as possible. Making available one’s personal data in FaceBook or such applications has an element of risk. Therefore one has to be selective about the nature of data one uploads. The electronic data transfer technology has made life immensely easy but it also carries with it the concomitant dangers of living in a digital world.

Monday, 2 April, 2018