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BW Businessworld

All Eyes On You

The Covid-19 outbreak has once again brought the big debate over privacy to the forefront. The pandemic has given businesses a pause but now has cyber criminals crawling out of the woodwork, with fake apps & websites to tempt the gullible.

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Do you sometimes get the feeling that you are being watched? No, you are not paranoid, it is literally happening. Governments across the world have used contact tracing to curb the spread of the virus. The ongoing discussion at the moment revolves around which version of the app being used by states is better ‒ the centralised version or the decentralised version, which incidentally offers users higher privacy. Initially, these apps were based on the centralised version which gave states more information on the people infected with the virus. However, now that numerous security glitches in it have come to light and after tech giants Apple and Google announced a secure contact tracing technology, a move towards the decentralised version seems likely.

Then there is South Korea, a country that has relied heavily on digital surveillance to track the spread of the virus and was successful in notifying people well before they became sick. Reports say that they created a centralised data lab in March that would help track   patients in less than ten minutes. The fact that they have extensive digital infrastructure and that the whole country relies heavily on technology has made this possible.

Watching Every Move 

In India too, the Aarogya Setu app has been questioned on grounds of security. Recently, Elliot Anderson, a French cybersecurity expert highlighted possible security glitches. Where does all this leave us in regard to privacy? Manish Sehgal, Partner, Risk Advisory Deloitte India, believes that in an unprecedented situation like this, the health of an individual and as a result, that of the nation, precedes security concerns. “The threat to the health of people because of the virus needs to be addressed before privacy concerns in a situation like this” he said. He pointed out that privacy laws have a provision, with states that if there is a threat to the life of a human being, certain exemptions can be made. This broadly translates to the fact that the requirement of, or the stringency of privacy laws, may be overlooked in such unprecedented situations. 

He did, however, stress that while at the moment it may be alright to overlook privacy in the larger interest of keeping citizens safe, steps will have to be taken post Covid-19 to ensure that all the data collected is not compromised. “Control mechanisms will have to be put in and laws will have to be instituted to make sure that all the data is not used indiscriminately.” An important aspect of this would require proper thinking through in a systematic manner by states andgovernments in order to not compromise on security. 

Scam Artistes Work their Magic Online

According to reports, the coronavirus-related fraud has seen Americans lose $13.4 million. In the United Kingdom, £2m has been lost to such frauds. Scam artistes are capitalisingon the fact that people are fearful of the virus, to prey on them by making fake websites that sell fake products or by enticing them with fake offers to obtain their bank details. At times,these scam artistes pretend to be from a government agency that is working to help citizens during the pandemic. Bogus websites, links, text messages, phone calls and emails are generated to trap unsuspecting people into revealing their bank information. 

In India too, the pandemic has given rise to online fraud. Reports show that this is done through fake online shopping sites, brand impersonation and creating fake social media accounts in the name of particular users and then reaching out to his network, to ask for money. Another reason for increased online frauds is the rush of businesses moving online as a result of the pandemic. Moving online was always on the agenda for Indian businesses and the pandemic has only hastened the move. 

Almost overnight the world came to a screeching halt, borders were closed, movement was restricted except for essential goods and service providers. The result was that, in a bid to survive, a number of small businesses quickly added new product categories and offerings to their range, which nicely fit into the ‘essentials’ category. The second thing they did was to move ‘online’. 

Of course, other businesses which clearly did not fit into the ‘essentials’ category in any manner decided to at least move online in a hurry so that once the lockdown would ease   they could start operations. All this massive movement online has given hackers and cyber criminals an opportunity to practice what they do best, resulting in a colossal headache for the authorities. About the rise in online fraud, Sehgal said that it is imperative for businesses to put in the required checks before moving online. “There seems to be an extreme rush to move online to keep operations running. However, it is the responsibility of businesses/organisations to put in the required checks to keep their consumers safe from online fraud,” he said.

Online security and privacy are key aspects of doing business online and while it is the responsibility of businesses to make their consumers feel secure,  governments needs to step in with suitable laws so that they are not misused. 


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