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India’s first major privacy survey reveals deep concern over intrusion

By Simon Davies

India’s largest-ever privacy survey has revealed a high degree of concern over encroachment into private life. The survey, published earlier today, polled the views of more than ten thousand people and concluded that Indian residents believe the threat of privacy invasion is now largely out of control.

Indian residents believe the threat of privacy invasion is now largely out of control.

The survey – which was conducted by the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi and funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) – has been released at a critically important moment for privacy in India. The national government is rolling out a unique identification system and authorities are in the advanced stages of planning for data protection legislation. Meanwhile Europe is pressing the world’s largest democracy to improve privacy protections so that trade between the two regions can be better assured.

Awareness of online and communications privacy is high. More than seventy percent of respondents expressed concern over website tracking, and a similar number were worried about surveillance of mobile phones. More than half of the participants have changed their default settings on a social network that they use and a similar number reported that they sometimes or often cleared cookies from their computer.

More than seventy percent of respondents expressed concern over website tracking, and a similar number were worried about surveillance of mobile phones.

One of the patterns that researchers observed across participants was that all felt very concerned about financial privacy. About 75% mentioned that they don’t disclose any credit card details to ‘anybody’ over the phone. Most people said they use credit and debit cards, but said they would avoid using online banking and money transactions, as they do not have much faith in the online process.

The Indian results frequently parallel similar surveys in Western countries. For example the level of concern over website tracking was close to the figure revealed by recent Microsoft polling research in Europe and North America.

However some elements of the Indian survey highlighted national idiosyncrasies in attitudes to privacy. For example, one question described the common scenario where on long-distance trains a reservation chart with details e.g. last name, first name, age, gender, boarding station, destination, seat number, PNR number for each passenger is displayed on the platform and the compartment. The poll asked respondents to describe how they would feel about their information being displayed in that way. Eighty percent reported that they would “always” or “usually” feel comfortable with such publication.