We will not touch your junk

Indians aren’t private people. We are conditioned by years of living in joint families or crowded communities, a throng of relatives visiting us or calling us over, and lots and lots of people all around us everywhere we go. So while, Americans demonstrate outrage at being patted down (and by the way, not even the most creative marketing professional could come up with “Don’t touch my junk” for a slogan for privacy activists) and countries worldwide debate about privacy issues in Facebook, we don’t bat an eyelid.

I think it is time we open our eyes and start worrying about our privacy. Here are some examples of how casual our attitude towards privacy is:

  • Railway reservation charts – Old but gold. If college kids can use the list to spot interesting “F”s (totally harmless, been there), so can criminals to spot easy targets (elderly, women traveling alone, etc.).
  • Sending sensitive information through book post – People are curious. A book post is an invitation for people to take a peek. India’s largest, public telecom carrier (oops, did I just give myself away?) sends my postpaid cell phone statement through book post (i.e., an open envelope). It has my name, address, cell phone number and all the calls I made or received last month neatly printed out for anyone who may be interested.
  • RTOs all over India provide an SMS “facility” to all and sundry. In Karnataka, if you send a license plate number via SMS to an RTO published number, you get back the owner’s name, engine and chassis numbers and the color, make and model of the car. I believe this is to assist people involved in “hit and run” cases. My question is – assist people in what? Delivering vigilante justice?
  • Retail shops routinely ask people to fill out detailed forms with all sorts of personal information. Of course, we could opt out but service personnel at these shops go after this information quite aggressively. On many occasions, I have been accosted by sales folks who open with “What’s your name?” even before they tell me what they are selling. I know many customers just capitulate under such pressure and tell all.

None of this seems to bother people. It is precisely this indifference that makes privacy issues even more important in India than elsewhere. It puts an even bigger onus on every business, every organization in India, to safeguard the privacy of individuals it deals with.

Discovery services deal with a very specific kind of personal information – people’s tastes. Mavrix’s music discovery service will be based on people’s taste in music. This information clearly is not as sensitive as someone’s address or credit card number, but we intend to treat it with just as much respect. We promise we will not touch your junk.