Category Archives: Misc

When I cannot figure where to put things.

Expectations of privacy on social networks

Facebook is the dominant social network in India and hence when I say FB, take it to mean all social networks in general. One of my FB acquaintances posted the following on his wall:

Hello, All my FB friends: I want to stay PRIVATELY connected with you all.However, with the recent changes in FB, the “public” can now see activities in ANY wall. This happens when our friend hits “like” or “comment” ~ automatically, their friends would see our posts too. Unfortunately, we cannot change this setting by ourselves
because Facebook has configured it this way.

PLEASE place your mouse……over my name above (DO NOT CLICK), a window will appear, now move the mouse on “FRIENDS” (also without clicking), then down to “Settings”, CLICK here and a list will appear. REMOVE the TICK on “COMMENTS & LIKE” and also “PHOTOS”. By doing this, my activity among my friends and family will no longer become public.

Now, copy and paste this on your wall. Once I see this posted on your page I will do the same~Thanks SO MUCH! Or, if you let me know that you did it, by saying “DONE!” in a comment below — I will immediately do the same for you!! Thanks!

I pointed out that not being an idiot was the best way to protect your privacy on Facebook. An 18-year-old Astorian drunk provided a prime example of being an idiot on Facebook. A police officer put it succinctly:

When you post … on Facebook, you have to figure that it is not going to stay private long.

People have to understand that social networks – specially free and open networks like Facebook – are not there to create and support an on-line social life for them. That virtual universe is an enabler for selling eyeballs to advertisers. Just like in the Matrix universe, FB’s “users” are chemical batteries powering its advertising engine.

The instructions that my acquaintance posted controlled the visibility of his updates on my Wall, not their accessibility. Once he decides that I can reach his updates, he has to trust my discretion not to make them public. Come to think of it, trust is one of the foundations of friendship. Oh the perfidy! Facebook is making him doubt his friends!

Fear not, even Facebook’s former marketing director could not figure out the privacy implications of sharing a private family photo with her friends. And she is the founder’s sister!

When using Facebook, don’t be an idiot. Don’t post anything that you want to keep private. Don’t expect your “friends” on Facebook to keep it safe for you.

 

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Saamna defends Abhijeet Mukherjee

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Everyone thinks Voltaire is the person who said this. Actually, it is Evelyn Beatrice Hall who paraphrased Voltaire’s beliefs with that simple quote. This quote is quite relevant as I discuss a Saamna editorial, as reported in the Times of India.

The editorial draws a parallel with the Palghar Facebook girls case and derides those who had supported the two girls for not supporting Mr. Mukherjee now. I would like to point out a few fallacies in that argument.

  • The support for the two girls from Palghar was not for their comments on Facebook but for their right to say that comment without fear of persecution. In particular, it was also a protest against the local police who threw nearly every police procedure out of the window to book those girls. Even in Mr. Mukherjee’s case, nobody is trying to shut him up. No one is damaging personal property belonging to him or his relatives. No one is dragging him to a police lockup at 11 in the night. They are dis-agreeing with his comments and calling him out on it.
  • The two girls were essentially nobodies. If the Shiv Sena had not taken umbrage, their comments would have sunk like stones in water and no one would have know about it. Mr. Mukherjee, however, is our President’s son, a member of India‘s First Family. He is a Congress MP. Both titles endow him with power and dignity in Indian society and with that, comes the responsibility to watch what he says in public, at least.

Finally I would say this – sneering at the candlewallahs and the  “lipstick brigade” is all well and good. The protesters who are braving the North Indian chill now are hardly “painted and dented”. They include migrant girls who have come to Delhi from outlying towns and villages and just want to better their lives. Do not belittle them or their anger by lumping them with socialites who plan protests over evening tea and games of bridge.

 

Indian men need to be emancipated first in order to secure Indian womens' dignity and rights

The sorry state of security and dignity of Indian women is a recurring topic now. Women raise this theme belligerently. Men discuss it in hushed tones, rather like knowing the doom is out there in the cold, waiting to devour them if they make a politically incorrect statement.

R Jagannathan has made a bold statement on Firstpost. In fact, one of the points he has raised is something I wish to put on record

If you are a boy from one of the underprivileged sections, the mixed message problems get worse. Not only are you angry about your financial and livelihood shortcomings, but every girl coming into your view is a challenge to your manhood and lowly status.

This does not absolve alleged rapists from the higher socio-economic strata. I will take this point up later. But think of the economically under-privileged. It does get tougher if you are lower in India‘s notorious caste hierarchy.

The economy is not getting any better. The gap between haves and have-nots is increasing and becoming more drastic year by year. The sight of a construction worker having a stale vada-pav outside a Pizza Hut joint filled with people who are not even hungry is not a stereotype any more. It’s a dangerous reality.  These men are bombarded by rank consumerist messages through all sorts of media – news outlets, entertainment, even the hoardings that they trudge by on their way to earn a minimum wage. At some point, their restraint will break, their instinct of self-preservation will fade and they will lash out at the most vulnerable target in Indian society – the up and coming, independent Indian woman.

Now add one more cause – India’s abysmal sex ratio and her patriarchal, misogynistic culture. I am open to be proven wrong but there is a direct proportional relation between how badly a particular region treats its women in general (and traditionally) and the number of rapes occurring there. There is a similar relation between patriarchal societies and cultures (samaj and biradari) considered misogynist and perpetrators of sexual crimes against women.

This is how perpetrators of sexual assault from a higher socio-economic class get away. It is as if their culture gives the men a right to have their way with women. If women of their “status” are not available to being treated like rank objects of depraved desire, then they turn to the lower classes.

The boys of the coming generation have to be taken care of. They have be educated about the personal dignity of a woman, about her strengths, rights and ambition. They have to be protected from the dogma of existing social and cultural traditions that deify women in a prayer room and objectify her outside it .

It will take a whole generation but hopefully, their female compatriots will not look at them with distrust and disgust.

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There is no such thing as a free lunch

Most of us still have a telephone diary at home. Even in this age of smart-phones, tablets and ultra-books, the humble telephone diary remains a steadfast backup of contacts and business cards. Now imagine a scenario. You go to a convenience store. The clerk at the checkout has a simple proposition – you let him have all the information in your telephone diary and he will give you a discount!

How many of you will take him up on that offer? I asked my mother and she told me to shut up and pay him full in cash. She is a technophobe. She can use the TV remote and make calls from the cellphone. That’s about it. So why is it that apps like Truecaller have between 1 to 5 million Android users?

Exploiting a user’s contacts list is an old tactic. All social networks and email hosts have a module where they ask you for your email account details (“We never store the password! Honest!”) and siphon off your contacts. These are then stored, analyzed and warehoused for further use. Mobile apps make it even more easier. The mobile OS provides a convenient API to get access to contact details. The intent to read contacts is mentioned in the application’s app store page. No one ever reads that page. Once you install the app and give it a data connection, it siphons off your contacts list. It doesn’t matter if you remove the app later on.

When I know a person enough that I have his contact details with me, I do not give up that information willy-nilly. It is sacrosanct and I expect that he will not give up my contact details to a third party either. Would you give up a friend’s contact details to get a free lunch at a restaurant?

This is the complaint that I have against applications like WhatsApp and Viber. It is fine if the person who is installing the app wants to sign up for WhatsApp. But it has no business siphoning off his entire contacts list in the name of  “finding out which of your friends are already on WhatsApp!”

Truecaller is an even more brazen violation of trust and privacy. Truecaller mentions straightaway that it is maintaining a directory of contacts. How does it work?

Let’s say Tom and Dick are friends with a presence in each others’ contacts list. Dick installs Truecaller, which siphons off his contacts. For some purpose Tom happened to call Harry, and Harry has Truecaller installed. Truecaller will intercept the call, extract the incoming number and match it against its own directory. Viola! Its Tom calling!

Does Truecaller have Tom’s permission to list his number? What other things is it going to do with its directory? What are the security protocols in place to protect all that information? What is the protocol for when government agencies ask for information and logs? Will it notify users about such requests?

Are the users made aware of these issues when they install Truecaller?

There is no free lunch in life. Nor online.

 

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Cross-posted from Facebook Dec 8 2012

All of India‘s problems – political, social, economic, religious, education, sports even – are persisting through decades and centuries because Indians, as a social or national unit, are incapable of taking cohesive action against entrenched power figures; real or perceived. The French Revolution would never have occurred in India, nor the American Revolution or Civil War. Indian history is nothing more than a list of regime changes in various power centres. Under the veil of pious nonchalance, we are simply too afraid of the mai-baaps among us to bother changing things for the better.

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