Digital Backlash or its Omni-presence

March 19, 2019: The news on how digital platform is misused are cropping up very regularly world-over. The latest one making rounds is of an American IT company-Cambridge Analytica – a vendor of sort of Facebook, which helped US President Donald Trump to win the elections held in 2016, surprising the whole world. The charge against Cambridge Analytica is that it had misused the data which was in its possession for undertaking a specific tasks assigned by Facebook, did not delete that data and illegally retained partly or fully and harvested the same containing profiles of 50 million, of which most of them were Americans, to help Trump during his election campaign.

The analytics company had unlawfully used the same data to evolve advertisements specific to each American voter. The involvement of the Russians thus rigging the 2016 elections is another matter, for which, high-level inquiries are commissioned and evidence are collated to be presented before the empowered committee looking into the allegations. What will be the final course of action is something the whole world is eagerly looking at. Indeed, President Trump is losing sleep as evident from the tweets and remarks he makes almost every day.

It is not an isolated incident confined to the US alone. In India, many digital frauds are reported and inquired into. Some of them are relating to hacking and others stealing data to perpetuate other crimes like syphoning off the funds from the banks, creating a fake database and sending wrong messages to the data illegally obtained etc. The digital platforms are also misused by the terror elements to spread violence and disseminate wrong information.

The proposed information superhighway in India is progressing well. The mammoth database on 1.3 billion people will be one of the largest reservoirs of information, which can be subjected to various types of analytics. But the issue regarding how to secure such data without overstepping into individual privacy, particularly when large-scale data thefts are taking place allegedly under the very nose of the authorities, is another issue. Judiciary has yet to take a final view of the matter. That apart, the increasing incidences of bank frauds and other related crimes have eroded the faith in the digital frame as a secured platform. Use of digital applications for spreading violence and wrong information is yet another concern.

Wiki leaks are still haunting many. A few countries have yet to come out of that shock. It also exposed how sovereigns deploy unethical approaches to spy on other countries and individuals to collect information about the political, business rivals etc to use against them. But such leaks are being supported by a large number of people calling it as ethical hacking. Then the question boils down to how we define ethical hacking. While this could be beneficial to one set of people or groups, it may adversely affect the interests of others.

In the aftermath of wiki leaks, all sovereign governments took cudgel against the leaks but a vast majority of general public opined that it had brought greater transparency in an otherwise opaque world where ruling governments keep many things under the wraps. Consequent of such revelations, high handedness of many governments and heads of states, across the world, had come to the public knowledge and led to the downfall of many leaders when they sought reelections or were removed on the strength of evidences against them. But for such leaks, blatant violations domestic laws and international protocols would have remained shrouded in secrecy.

Artificial intelligence would have made life easy and systems more efficient and swift. But that platform also killed many jobs. The livelihood of many is affected and most of the countries facing such vagaries do not have a safety net to take care of the basic needs of the people.

Does it mean that technology should have a human face? Yes, many people are arguing vociferously for such things to happen rather than facing tyranny of handlers’ of technology.