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Discourse 31 May 2019 Loopholes in surveil ...

Loopholes in surveillance tech

DECCAN CHRONICLE
Published May 31, 2019, 2:49 am IST
Updated May 31, 2019, 2:49 am IST
When someone uses a mobile phone, he or she is voluntarily submitting to tracking and surveillance of various kinds.
None of this is to say tracking has no value; it does have value, as in the case of ensuring the safety of a person with memory loss. (Photo: Pixabay)
 None of this is to say tracking has no value; it does have value, as in the case of ensuring the safety of a person with memory loss. (Photo: Pixabay)

The advent of Global Positioning System technology and mobile communication technology has made geospatial tracking of any object cheap and easy. Technology has been changing many aspects of our life. Uber and Ola have changed the way we travel, Swiggy has changed the way we eat... all thanks to GPS technology.

Child tracking devices leverage the same technology. Tracking devices send device location information to a central system and parents can access this information on their mobile phones anywhere anytime. When the device is attached to a child’s body, the location of the device becomes equivalent to that of the child.

 

The firms that market child tracking devices are essentially trying to capitalise on people’s fear. They wax eloquent on advantages of tracking but say nothing of the risks, such as the loss of privacy or theft of identity. Vulnerabilities in a location tracking device can expose a child to great danger by making the child’s location information available to third parties. Similarly, the device can be hijacked to relay false information.

Tracking children through specialised devices and services is one part of the story; the other is part is tracking that happens without our knowledge and tracking that we happily submit to. A very good example is that of the mobile phones. When someone uses a mobile phone, he or she is voluntarily submitting to tracking and surveillance of various kinds. The irony of this form of tracking is that the subject of tracking is voluntarily and gleefully submitting to the process. They see it as something useful to themselves. Industry watchdogs have reported many cases where children’s toys were embedded with surveillance and tracking system.

Tracking is about power, it is not just about children. Absher, the Saudi Arabian government’s official app, is all about men tracking women for their safety!

None of this is to say tracking has no value; it does have value, as in the case of ensuring the safety of a person with memory loss. But instances of usefulness are very small in number and may not make much business sense. Tapping into parents’ natural concern and fear for their children’s safety makes for a great marketing ploy. Parents have to take an informed choice keeping all this in mind rather than fall for the narrative.

Falling for the marketers’ narrative will push us to an Orwellian world.

(The author is a founding member of Free Software Foundation of India, third chapter of the International Free Software Foundation. He has been working with governments to improve the adoption of Free Software within public institutions. He is now Programme Head (Research and Academics), International Centre of Free and Open Source Software)

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