Privacy price for convenience

The original article “Privacy price for convenience” was published by HAKEM HASSAN at The Sun Daily

PETALING JAYA: Advertisements popping up on the screen while you are surfing the internet or trying to send a message is a mild irritation.

Most people live with it as the price of having the convenience of an online communications platform.

But it becomes a problem when it also opens a way for the service provider to pass on your personal data to a third party.

For a start, there will be precise individual profiling that will lead to more targeted advertisements directed at the user.

Cyber-security testing firm LGMS Group chief executive officer Fong Choong-Fook said whether that is acceptable depends on many factors, such as the user’s aversion to the risk of invasion of his privacy, or abuse of business confidentiality, in the case of a company.

For many, this is unacceptable. The decision by WhatsApp to share personal data such as your mobile number, IP address and other identifiers with parent company Facebook has led many to abandon the world’s most popular social media platform.

The new policy, which affects users outside the European Union, takes effect on Monday, when Facebook will have full access to all user data collected by WhatsApp.

Users have until Feb 8 to agree to the new terms, or be barred from using the app.

In the few weeks since the announcement was made, many WhatsApp users have switched to other platforms perceived to be “less intrusive” such as Signal and Telegram.

Leaving WhatsApp for other services is not an easy decision to make. Many organisations now depend almost entirely on it for official communication.

“If they choose to stay, they must be fully aware of the impact, especially the fact that Facebook will now also have full access to their data,” Fong told theSun.

Universiti Sains Malaysia associate professor Dr Selvakumar Manickam said all app users should be concerned about data privacy.

“Many of us may not think twice before posting something on social media and messaging apps, but such data can be used for malicious purposes.”

“The high number of scams reported show that Malaysians need to be educated, and it’s best to integrate this into our education system to create a ‘cyber-informed’ society,” Selvakumar added.

However, the cyber-security expert said messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram have over the years implemented strong privacy and security mechanisms to ensure their platforms are secure as much as possible.

“Hence, data breaches by cyber-criminals are quite improbable. But the issues now is the sharing of information by these apps with other platforms,” he said.

Selvakumar pointed out that apps such as Signal and Telegram are considered non-profit firms but Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, is a profit-driven company.

“Facebook will want to find ways to monetise the data on its users.”

Other apps may not necessarily be perfect either. For instance, a group of users (men only) sharing photos and personal information of women and girls without their consent on the V2K Telegram group became a major controversy when it was uncovered in October last year.

There is not much in place to prevent such cases with apps that have less stringent policies that allow anonymity, with no censorship.

Even so, Selvakumar believes that Telegram cannot be held responsible for the abuse.

“The fault lies with the user,” he said.

“It’s best not to share highly private and sensitive content. Remember that once it goes online, it stays online, and in most cases, it can never be removed.”

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