User data protection

ByUmair Ali

Trainee lawyer


August 13, 2022

Umair Ali shows concerns about a growing worry

The complaints are growing by the day of increasing theft of data provided by individuals and social groups to various organisations. Data theft is currently the most talked about issue with fears rising that an extremely gross misdemeanor has been committed in a rather organised manner. The matter of customer data is implied to be the details obtained by organisations dealing with commerce and trade for catering to the needs of their clientele. Apparently, this is an innocuous activity but the way the subject has been misused has caused widespread concerns. While it is acknowledged that it is not only the businesses that need to reach out to groups of target audiences but also social groups for whom their members hold equal value, yet any indiscretions taking place in this aspect cannot be condoned.

Human data is collected to devise strategies for connecting with relevant groups and the information so collected becomes the repository of a particular entity. The data collecting process involves three components comprising of the user, the research entity and the business or organisation for which the data is collected. The most important tenet of such an exercise usually deals with protecting details of the data collected and never to divulge it for any other purpose. It is very evident that the users of a facility consenting to provide their particulars do so on the explicit understanding that their information will be used exclusively by the obtaining agency. They place their trust in the fact that their individual identities will not be disclosed to other entities.
The modern practices of data collection have made granular data collection on consumers a seamless and unobtrusive process. Various social networking websites allow unprecedented reach and connections that have been made possible by the use and adoption of information and communication technology currently in vogue.
The multiple provisions of tools and methodologies employed by data collection agencies can dip into a large ecosystem of methodologies and tools to obtain an increasingly comprehensive view of the user by drawing inference from all activities of their users by just browsing through the data they have provided. Data collection agencies employ semiotics, social listening and communications to understand how people interact with media especially social media.

The characteristic change occurring in data collection regime has provided for movement from overt to the covert tracking of individual behaviour. The obvious change in dynamics has necessitated a review of the norms followed by data collecting agencies. The change in perception should be based on normative human behaviour and the intricacies associated with it. The practice of learning to use software requires the learner to follow and adhere to certain specific guidelines entailing the normative adherence to forms and substance.
In this connection it is observed that most users of social networking websites are often aware that these companies are tracking their activities on the company websites. However, the users are definitely not aware of the usage of their data by agencies other than the ones who have obtained it. The technology-intensive nature of the data collection process often makes it impossible for the user to detect who is tracking their personal data. Here lies the catch as most users remain in darkness about the fact that different data collecting agencies often share it with other agencies through a well-ordered barter system.

The recent spate of revelations about this crucial aspect has brought to fore that rules of prudence and conformity to the established norms by data collection agencies have been flouted and the exercise was mostly driven by self-regulation. The sharing and dissemination of data poses serious challenges to the norm of data collection. It should also be borne in mind that the post-internet era has provided for data collection in a soft format and the insights obtained are usually granular giving away the behavioural patterns of the users, a dangerous tendency indeed. This is precisely the reason that granular nature of the data makes it very attractive to organisations that frequently use their information to micro-target messaging and communications of their user base.

The unfolding stories about Facebook and similar portals underline the fact that a self-regulatory approach is not enough for controlling unethical sharing of data. It is therefore required that a more structured approach is adopted based upon compliance of specific rules formed about the matter. The most relevant aspect the whole exercise must be based upon is the adherence to mandated and audited practices that challenge the practices in vogue that are based upon conformity. However, it is easier said than done because the international behemoths collecting data will resist such compliance and will try their utmost to refrain from operating within ambit of ethical behaviour. In wake of the current disclosures, obtaining data may prove very difficult in future and such difficulty will result in harming the very basis of improvement of service delivery and social networking. TW


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