Are we too carefree with our personal data?

A Deloitte survey in the US found that 91% of American users do not read the T&C

pic by AFP

“I READ and agree to the terms of service”— could be one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves just to navigate things online.

In 2017, a Deloitte survey in the US found that 91% of American users do not read the terms and conditions (T&C). The number is higher for younger users aged between 18 and 34.

It does not need an Einstein brain to tell that the long-windedness and complex legal jargons are the reasons why many people do not waste their time to read the fine details.

As a result, we submit ourselves and our data to these websites and applications, with little or no control over the consequences.

Last week, the trending FaceApp became a contentious issue in the US, as some members of the US Congress were calling for a probe into the Russian-based company, citing concerns over privacy and the usage of its 150 million photos of people’s faces stored since it was launched in 2017.

FaceApp’s terms of service stated that the company has the right to use the submitted photos however it wants and that it deletes most images from its servers within 48 hours of upload.

It also said that it does not share the data with any third parties.

Some quarters argue that FaceApp is targeted because the developer is from Russia. Others have also highlighted other apps like Instagram and Facebook, which do not score highly in data protection.

Industry players have long highlighted that the photos could be used for advertising purposes. Sceptics claimed that the images could be manipulated to generate an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-deepfake Internet persona.

Nobody knows for sure. In the era of “data is king”, talking cyborgs that remind us of “Terminator”, there are many grey lines in the cyberworld.

One good thing that came out of the FaceApp debacle is how much or how little control we have over our own data, and how much we “surrender” our lives to these giant tech companies in the name of better service.

Herein lies the question: How can we keep and protect our data from the Internet when we are becoming so dependent on these networks of computers?

Much of our data and personal details are readily available in social network platforms. It takes only a brainy algorithm, planted deep into the system to search and piece together a profile of an individual. Much like how Google LLC learns based on your click and search habits.

It is a scary thought though that an AI is gathering information about us. As it is, Google can track your location on a minute-by-minute basis even if you have turned off your location history. Apps like Waze does the same thing.

The paid application in your phone that you submitted your debit or credit card CVC (card verification code) would continue to store the sacred three-digit number.

That does not include other basic information that you have stored online over the years such as phone number and personal pictures.

According to the government, the Personal Data Protection Department has received 680 complaints related to data protection, and 46% of these cases have been resolved.

Dewan Negara was told yesterday that most of the complaints are directed to the insurance and banking sectors.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo also acknowledged that one of the government’s main focus areas is data protection as most people are concerned about their privacy.

There are speculations that companies are also selling personal contact information, how else do these sales people get your number?

Maybe we need to practise self-restraint on the kind of information or data we are willing to give to companies.

Maybe it all starts with the tedious task of reading the terms of service before we pour our details out.


Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.