Collection of data by various organizations, government bodies & individuals has become such an integral part of our lives that, more often than not, we don’t even think before sharing our most personal data with complete strangers.
Several things happened to me last week that have resulted in my need to write this post.
First incident: I went to Metro in Karachi to buy my monthly groceries and as I got out of my car, a young man approached me with a clipboard and asked if I would be interested in buying some engine oil from Caltex. It was a really good deal, he informed me. As usual, I was in a mad rush so I told him that I didn’t have the time to come and have a look at the product and its advantages at that time but would probably check it out later. He responded “That’s fine Ma’am. May I have your name, your email address and your cell number.” I answered “No you may not. That is private information I do not wish to share with someone i don’t know.” He was persistent and told me that he needed the information so that he could send me details on all the wonderful deals his organization was offering. Being a privacy advocate, I tried to explain to him the dangers of parting with such information but like most surveyors, and sales people, he had only one focus – adding more names and contacts to his company’s existing marketing database. I gave up trying to convert him to my way of thinking because I had limited time. However the irritation stayed with me.
Second incident: It seems everyone was out to irritate me that day. As I parted with thousands of rupees and was wondering how the average Pakistani managed to live and provide food for his/her family, I was approached by yet another young man with a clipboard. He said to me that I was lucky to have come to the supermarket that day because all customers shopping on that day qualified for a lucky draw. All I had to do was part with my name, home address, email address and cell number. I didn’t see the point of arguing with him because he was only doing what he was hired to do. So I just said that I did not wish to part with my personal data. He persisted but I told him that I was not likely to change my mind, turned my back on him and left.
Third incident: The next day I got a call from a representative of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL) who started the conversation by asking me how I was doing and if I had a few minutes. I asked what it was about and he started to tell me about this new broadband deal that his organization was offering. I interrupted him by asking where he had got my cell number from, that i didn’t recall sharing it with his organization or giving my permission for them to share it with their marketing reps. I also told him that I did not appreciate receiving a sales call on my mobile phone, that I only used it for business and personal purposes.
Instead of being apologetic, the young man proceeded to tell me that he was calling from PTCL and that he had access to all my information. He then rattled off my home address which, as you can imagine, resulted in me losing my cool totally. I told him that I took great exception to the fact that anyone had access to my personal data. To this he replied that I was obviously not aware that such practices were normal in Western and civilized societies and that it was due to the existence of such databases that people were able to avail of all sorts of schemes and benefits. I tried to explain to him that it was wrong for organizations to have access to anyone’s personal data & for them to use it indiscriminately. However, he didn’t see it that way and thought I was being very unreasonable at not accepting an internationally accepted best practice.
Fourth incident: A young female friend I am very fond of was looking very disturbed last week. When I asked her what was wrong, she explained to me that she had a medical problem for which she had consulted a specialist. Present in the consultation room, in addition to the specialist, were several other young medics. They stood around poking at various parts of her and discussing her “problems” as if she was a species that they had procured for experimentation and study. The reason for this was that this was one of the major teaching hospitals in the city. I remembered that when my dad had been hospitalized a few weeks earlier, he had also been put through similar group examinations. He had looked uncomfortable throughout the process – the indignity of the entire experience had left him feeling depressed and humiliated. My young friend expressed the same sentiments and asked why her medical problems couldn’t be a private matter between her and her doctor.
All these incidents indicate that professionals and organization give little consideration and thought to the privacy of those who are paying them for a service or a consultation. They believe it is their right to do whatever they wish with data they have collected, share it with whoever they like and use it in any which way. They think it is unreasonable of us to expect them to respect our privacy. We are made to feel uncooperative and unreasonable if we object and insist on our privacy being a key element of our relationship with them. Why is this? And should we not stand up and resist this increasing trend? I think we should. It makes me angry that organizations continue to violate my privacy and that I continue to allow them to. I think if we continue to let this to happen, we leave ourselves open to continued abuse of our basic right to protect our private information.