Zuckerberg In India: Concern Around Safe Internet Usage


From Access To Safe Access In The Web World

When I think of anonymity of the writer, I am invariably reminded of the19th century women writers who adopted a form of chosen anonymity by using pseudonyms for themselves. It is interesting that the very space that consciously kept women away from the entire business of publishing also created clandestine mechanisms to include them in the loop; be it through misrecognition of women writers and their existence. It is through this prism, I intend to engage with the cyber space and more particularly social media noting as to how by creating a space for anonymity and false personages, it has led to the unlawful and unethical use of this very same space.

Today, India is one of the biggest consumersof mobiles handsets, internet and social media— 900 million owning mobile sets (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India figures),  243.2 million internet users and 106 million active social media users (mid-year figures of 2014). The importance of technology in democratising information and knowledge spaces is crucial especially with reference to India, where access remains an uphill task.

However, the increasing number of cyber crimes raise alarm about the potential danger of this technology. According to the Internet Security Threat report released by Norton (Symantec), India has 42 million cyber crimes every year.

This is not to say that the internet or technology for that matter should be shunned altogether, but as technology develops and creates new ways of life- both constructive and destructive- we need to delineate ways to effectively manage them ensuring transparency and accountability.

Consequently, as the Internet.org summit that is going to be held in New Delhi is thinking about increasing access to internet, the issue of safe internet access needs to be dealt with simultaneously.  Moreover, the practice of unauthorized access to data of multiple countries including India by the United States of America is also a manifestation of the prevailing lack of security in the cyber world.

But data protection mechanism cannot alone mitigate threats of fraud, theft, harassment and system malfunction and damage through viral infection. As mentioned earlier, the condition of anonymity means that cyber cops have the responsibility to hunt for defaulters in social media- the access and availability of which is not based on sound processes of data verification. As far as I remember, while creating my Facebook account, I was simply asked for an alternate e-mail id and an active phone number. Now, while the e-mail id creation again does not have adequate data verification measures and the mobile numbers may and may not correspond to the actual identity of the user, the entire process of tracing a defaulter is like looking for a drop of water in the ocean. Like what was believed by 19th century readers in England regarding women writers- that they did not exist because of the use of false identities, the source of a netizen in the realm of social media is equally non-existent or rather surreptitious. This is not to undermine recent developments, especially with reference to Facebook, where measures have been taken to increase breach of privacy like regulation of the visibility of content. It is just to point towards a problem that requires a more concerted effort on the part of the makers and developers of applications.

Lastly, the concern for safety is writ large in Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s words who is currently visiting India- “In developing countries, 25 percent fewer women are online, compared to men.” Thus, the question as to whether the internet world can be made a safe haven by developing mechanism to deal with it as an increasingly insidious platform, where the source of information or data feed remains dubious.

Pallavi Ghosh

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