As a debate rages on over the floating idea of linking Facebook accounts to Aadhaar, it is time we ponder if this is the only option or there are other better solutions that could not just secure the digital and social media lives of citizens but also ensure their privacy and safety.
The main intention of this much discussed about linkage is just one — to stop fake news which gets viral and heavily propagated via social media in almost no time. In my humble opinion, linking Indian people’s Aadhaar with social media is not a panacea for the fake news plague. Fake news can be curbed on social media by taking other suitable measures.
Cyberspace is like an ocean — endless and limitless — and we just cannot restrict it by or within any geography. There is no Indian internet as such — we obviously don’t want to be like China or North Korea who have taken some measures to that effect! Do we? And for a second even if we assume that we link all our social media profiles with Aadhaar, can we still protect our citizens from being served fake news by accounts from outside our shores.
Another issue is cyber security and data privacy of Indian citizens. We have already seen many cases of late when customer data from big and small companies have been hacked into and compromised including Facebook, Google, banking, financial and health data etc. Even in this case, Facebook is openly saying that it is worried about the safety and privacy of its users’ data and would not want to go for the linkage but the Indian government wants to. My reason against the linkage is that since Aadhaar has almost all information related to our bank accounts we must avoid treading that path.
In an earlier instance, there was a decision to link the Aadhaar with mobile connections but later the decision was revoked due to fears of misuse of Aadhaar data. Still, even in that linkage, the solace was that most of the mobile network companies are Indian and they have servers located in India itself. Facebook and Whatsapp, etc. have their offices in other countries and the government has almost no control over them. As per Indian government intent all Indian data must be kept within the country only but in this case, we would be going against that spirit of data localization and sending our data to international countries. This could also have severe ramifications on national security if there is any big breach.
Also, we must understand a social media account is a private account of a person — it necessarily does not have to be linked to a government database just for the sake of privacy — linking with Aadhaar will be jeopardizing the independence and democratic rights of the person for one never knows know that data may be misused by the companies or the government of the day.
We all know how our privacy has already been compromised by Alexa, Google, Apple and products of other companies that can listen to even our drawing room and bedroom coversation and it has already been proved in several instances which have also been widely reported. Rather, as a country, we must focus on investing on research to develop the technology to save our virtual space and not open our data for any misuse.
Most of the folks and younger generation use social media from their phones. There are already norms that every phone number needs to be verified — the need of the hour is to get them implemented more stringently on the ground. Phone verification in my opinion is a better idea. This will solve the issue at the source itself and privacy will also not be violated in any manner. So anyone who then peddles or spreads fake news can be held accountable by enforcement agencies in no time. This will take care of the concerns of the people as well as the government.
We can also look at the KYC option of linking social media accounts via the traditional physical verification option or through the references options just we do while opening a bank account. Another most pertinent aspect is the awareness and training for the people at large. Several platforms including newspapers and TV channel are already doing fake news checks or fact checks every day leading to better informed citizens. They publish the viral fake news and along with the fake news they publish the facts. But, more is needed. There is also a big need to create awareness among the users to stop propagating fake news and verify the news because in the long run an educated consumer of news is the best antidote to fake news.
But these may take time. So, as of now, phone number and email verifications instead of Aadhaar linkage are the best immediately available options which will take care of the fake news disease without any side effects that an Aadhar linkage cure may bring along.
(Sanjay Kaushik is MD of Netrika Consulting and is an expert in cyber security and cyber forensics).