Sunday, October 12, 2014

Do Indian matrimonial sites guarantee the privacy of your most sensitive information?

I personally believe users of some of the Indian matrimonial sites face the risk of unconsented use of their sensitive personal information. When, I read the privacy polices of these sites, it felt quite apparent that there was a genuine lack of understanding as to what was needed to protect the privacy of the sites users. I would advise all users to first read the Privacy Policies of these sites to select a suitable one to use and to ensure the deletion of personal data when the matchmaking process is finished.
Users of matrimonial sites fully disclose sensitive personal information to make a match. Initially in the matching process their profiles remain anonymous, but as the selection narrows down, the level of disclosure increases as the parties interact on the site. Personal information includes a person’s name, email  address, sex, age, mailing address, credit card or debit card details  medical records and history , photograph, sexual orientation, biometric information,  interests, information tracked while navigation, horoscope and occupation.  If other services linked to the sites such as chats are used, the contents of these chats may also be recorded. Interestingly, some sites also allow users to submit public and private information on behalf of others like child, relative, and friends without their explicit consent.

Information stored on these sites is used for advertising and shared with partners companies. None of these sites stated what data was shared (I presume all of it) and for what purpose. Sites have to be transparent and obtain explicit consent of users on the way in which personal data is used. Under data protection laws, blanket permissions are not allowed.
Most of the sites were nonspecific about their process for deletion of personal information, in full or part, when requested by the user. One site stated that the deletion of information would take a long time because of residual copies on servers and could not guarantee their removal from backup systems.

What was left ambiguous was information on the sites mechanism to ensure anonymity of personal information at all times, except when the user consented to selectively disclose information to a selected match. While this is an implicit assumption, it was never explicitly confirmed. The two questions that came to mind was a) on how the employees of these matrimonial sites were authorized to access to the data and b) whether the data was secured using encryption. Reading through disclosure made by sites on their security mechanisms, my conclusion was that most of the sensitive data lies unencrypted (except for credit card information). Some sites openly disclaimed their inability to secure the data.
In event of a data breach, matrimonial sites would be liable to pay compensation or penalty under section 43 A of the Indian IT Act. To avoid penalty they need to prove that their security systems were adequate enough to secure sensitive private data. Without encryption, the ability to fully delete information and restrictions on sharing copies of personal data with advertising partners, it would be difficult to convince a court that reasonable practices were in place.

To reemphasize;
I would advise all users to first read the Privacy Policies of these sites to select a suitable one to use and ensure the deletion of personal data when the matchmaking process is finished.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

CyberCitizens logout of in country hosted messaging apps services

Instant messaging apps hosted out of a cybercitizens country of residence have become a favorite after fears that the home government could look into chat logs for evidence that may ultimately be used to prosecute the sender or receiver of the chat messages.  When the NSA PRISM spying episode unraveled, the loudest protests were from Americans.  A similar story appears to be playing out in South Korea where over 1.5 m users have abandoned their Korean messaging app service  Kakao Talk used by 70% of the population for the Telegram Messenger - an encrypted messaging service based in Germany, with no servers in South Korea. The secret chat technology ensures that the messages are not stored on the company’s server, self-destruct and are encrypted and therefore they cannot be handed over to law enforcement.
The underlying reason for the exodus has been the crackdown by law enforcement on people allegedly spreading rumors about the president of South Korea on Kakao Talk. Rumors were spreading due to the public discontent on the way the South Korean Sewol ferry disaster, where 304 people died was handled.

Cybercitizens seem to have more trust in foreign governments who have no apparent incentive to trawl their data. Receiving data from foreign sites even for genuine cases of cybercrime or harassment is an issue for law enforcement as they need to get appropriate court orders. Requests also have to be made before logs are deleted, these are usually retained for a limited time, usually a month.
Encryption is a two way sword it protects the privacy of the good and the bad. Terrorist, cybercriminals and other such elements can always use these apps. For this reason there will be pressure from law enforcement on any provider of encrypted communication to ensure that there is a way to decrypt the message. Encrypting a message which cannot be decrypted only protects the content of the message, other details such sender, receiver, attachment size, date and time, ip addresses (and hence location) of both sender and receiver would be still available.