Privacy issues on social media and beyond | #socialmedia

Once in every ten years our government would conduct a 100 percent census throughout the nation counting every single human being residing in Malaysia at a certain time and date.

This year the Census Day was 7 July 2020; e-census completed online have to be completed by 7 December 2020 otherwise Census Enumerators will visit your house starting 20 January 2021 to conduct an interview.

Ten years ago at the 2010 Census, e-census online was not available, and an enumerator had at that time spent over an hour and a half interviewing me. This year I have just taken about the same amount of time completing my e-census; which could have been shortened if you either live alone or just with a spouse or partner. I have 5 in the household so it had taken much longer. Besides which the online format was sometimes rather slow to react.

There were many highly private and personal questions asked on the e-census form, some of which could be regarded as intrusive or even highly sensitive. However as  all this is  allowed and provided for legally in the Census Act 1960 (Revised 1969) we are required by law to respond to them all accurately. I hope they have since amended that law to include the provision that such information can be gathered from such online internet registration!

Many of the questions posed in the Census Form are useful and will help the government in many ways in finding out more about the living standards, state of health and welfare, citizens’ happiness quotient, income strata as well as daily habits even to the minute detail of how often you either have a meal together with a family member or interact with your next door neighbour!

Certain questions did throw me a curve – why would your government want to know at what age you got married? That it did seemed rather amusing to me. Other questions had shown more sensitivities of a rather caring government – for instance the distance between where you stay and the nearest medical facility, gymnasium, bus stop and so forth.

Health issues appeared to be a major concern : queries about your current state of health, if you’re suffering from any ailment, and most of all your state of mind – if you’re feeling sad, lonely or worried you can even tell them so.  The number of questions asked on a person’s general well being is surprisingly more than any other category!

In keeping with the times, there is also a new section on social media, and you are asked if you have any of the listed social media namely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In and WhatsApp or any other.

There are two categories I found slightly amusing: one is on your race – I didn’t know or wasn’t aware that there are actually two types of Foochow and Hockchiu (always thought they were one and the same); and also that Hakka is better known as Khek!

The other one is that the census people are very interested to find out who you eat and drink with in the course of a day – from breakfast, coffee-break, lunch, tea-break, dinner to supper!  Did you realize that Malaysians can partake of 6 meals in a day? Anyway I could only answer for myself that I only take 3.

I am sure that they must have very good and valid reasons for all these questions listed on that Census Form, and I sincerely hope that they won’t take too long to tabulate it all out and let us know the end results.

Of course I’ll be very keen to find out if there are actually people who do take all those 6 meals in a day!

Overall, the concern over privacy issues in the public arena has become a very hot and topical subject these days.

On the one hand we have many newly enacted laws to regulate these issues and on the other we have also seen some big corporations like banks, NGOs and semi-government agencies abusing or bending these rules by gathering and making use of such private information gathered in the course of doing their routine daily transactions and interaction with clients, customers and even prospects. I am sure many of you have received telemarketing calls from some financial institution or other who can only have known about your nice and hefty savings account with such and such a bank; otherwise why didn’t they call your neighbour, or your friend instead?

Some of us may have read of a couple of recent cases when big corporations, in particular a case involving a large airline caught out for selling off their huge database of their customers’ information to an online internet giant for a large sum of money. Cases similar to this one are only the tip of the iceberg. They will no doubt continue to happen.

But believe it or not there is currently no law to prohibit anyone from selling your personal data! So please do be careful when you give yours away.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and many other  corporations have at one time or another being accused of either selling or using your personal data for nefarious purposes. But they in turn have defended themselves by saying that they are only using whatever personal data that they have gathered, for example your buying habits, personal interests and hobbies as well as age group, income segmentation and other demographics of you purely for marketing purposes, so that they can actually tailor-make for you their suggestions of what, where, when and how to make a purchasing decision.

In simple words, by gathering enough information of you someone like Amazon can know very accurately what books, movies or music you like, and how often you read, watch and listen to the same; where and when you  do all this and even with whom and how much you’re willing to spend and so on and so forth. They can know almost everything about you from the pattern and algorithm of your buying habits alone.

Yes, it can get very scary when you really sit down and think about it.

Imagine that it had all started with innocent you just a few years back opening either an account with Amazon or Shopee or Grab or getting yourself registered on Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter.

The omnipresent Big Brother of them all is of course Google. With every single Google search you perform, they know a little bit more about you. You can but only guess how much information Google has already gathered and stored in their databank about you since the very first day you had started your very first search on it.

If that doesn’t scare you yet, I don’t know what will.

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