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Data Protection and Women

Data protection seems to be the central topic in most discussions pertaining to the Internet, especially after Julian Assange and Edward Snowden decided to publicize classified information that went on to embroil even the heads and ministers of several states. However, little attention is paid to how data protection laws (or lack of them) affect ordinary citizens, particularly women.

Almost every website has “terms and conditions” that users must agree to, before registering or enjoying basic services. These terms and conditions are, by the way, rarely read due to their length and linguistic complexity. Regardless of that, people “accept” the agreement with a simple click, and often provide personal information which the website promises to hold in confidentiality. The promise is either included as a clause within the terms and conditions, or displayed as a prompt before the user can begin to enter his/her information.

Popular job searching websites have spaces for users to enter their personal information, including contact details, such as email address and phone number. While users expect such information to be protected, company employees or website administrators often misuse the data for harassing women.

“I know everything about you,” the stranger on the other side of the phone proclaims flirtatiously. The harasser is persistent in calling even after the woman makes firm, repeated requests to the man, asking him to desist.

Information misuse is not restricted to online means. For instance, it is commonplace in Bangladesh for random men to collect, in exchange for a paltry sum of money, the contact numbers of women from “mobile credit top-up booths.” To escape this, few women used to send their male friends or relatives to the booths. At other times, they would pretend the number belonged to a male. Another similar incident involves men “buying” photos of women from photo-studios – without the explicit knowledge and permission of the women – in order to blackmail the women or to misuse the images.

In another occasion, a woman began receiving unwarranted calls from a stranger who turned out to be an employee at the Department of Immigration and Passports in Bangladesh. Service providers, financial aid cells of universities, and many other institutions have betrayed the women who have placed their trust on these institutions and provided them with their personal information.

Keeping such misuse in mind, mobile phone companies have initiated several solutions, such as the ability to use a pin number (instead of the phone number) in the credit top-up booths and the option to block calls from certain numbers, although the latter process is time-consuming; is not free; and involves limits to the number of people one can block. However, when it comes to online data protection, there is still a great deal to be done.

Public and private institutions need to have policies to protect sensitive data of stakeholders so that the information is not used to harass people. Public and private institutions must be prepared to deal strictly with employees who breach company policies of data protection. Women need to be ensured that their data will be kept confidential and that the collection of such data will not become a new means of harassing them.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

Comments

hmagnussen's picture

Great Post Monica!

Hi Monica,

Thanks for sharing! Many people give information automatically including myself. It has become the "norm" to tell everyoe everything about yourself online. It is definatley something we should be thinking twice about. Even when giving it to "trusted" companies.

kellyannaustin's picture

eye-opening!

Thank you so much for educating me about the types of harassment women may face accessing normal digital resources or as a result of everyday transactions. You've outlined some of the challenges unique to women in our changing digital world. In addition to the solutions you suggest, I wonder if there are legal remedies?

Kelly

Kelly

Monica09's picture

Legal Remedies

Dear Kelly,

Cyber laws, such as the ICT Act 2006 (amended in 2009- ICT Policy 2009), exist in Bangladesh. However, separation of powers remains low in the country (which means these laws can be manipulated for political reasons) and enforcement of laws is also low so that many criminals go scot-free. For instance, recently a cyber security task force has been established, but it has not gained popularity among the masses yet, mainly due to the lack of promotion and access (too much bureaucracy, nonchalant officials, harassing victims).

Government websites have been hacked several times in the country. The perpetrators were arrested (because these were "high profile" cases- putting the "ordinary" citizens, esp. women at risk) but Bangladeshi cyber space still remains unsecured (which translates into a cure approach, not a prevention approach). Harassing people through social media is commonplace in Bangladesh, and despite it being illegal, there is absolutely nothing being done to prevent it or to aid the victims. I feel that the government is mostly focused on e-commerce/e-service, and not on cyber security.

- Monica

kellyannaustin's picture

Monica, As a well-informed

Monica,

As a well-informed and eloquent champion, you are bringing much-needed attention to this issue. Let me know how I can support you!

Kelly

Kelly

Kristina M's picture

I agree, eye opening post

I too just click through the terms and conditions to get to the website or service I am interested assuming that the company will somehow protect my information. But with a new security breach making the news headlines at least once a week now, it makes me wonder what can we do to start protecting ourselves a little bit better.

Kristina

busayo's picture

Good Job Monica!

Thank you for the information on the security issues women faced online. It is not only on phone, people send spam messages on your every now and there is psychological cyber bully and it scares a lot of women away from using internet. We really need to look into the issues of protecting ourselves online.

Busayo Obisakin

Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria
busobisaki@yahoo.com
womeninspirationcenter@gmail.com
http://womeninspirationce.wix.com/widcng

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Thank you, Monica --

This is so well-said, clear and highly informative. Hopefully many women will read it and it will serve the excellent purpose of opening eyes to Internet abuse of women. The scams outlined in your excellent piece, above, exemplify manipulation of the Web as a means of profiting from the misery of others.

Thank you, Monica, for this enlightening, completely professional work.

With Respect,

Sarah

susa's picture

informative post

Dear Monica,

Thank you for such a clear description of the cyber-harassment problems women are facing in Bangladesh. Just from the comments, we can see that your post resonated with readers in other countries who have faced or may face similar situations. I appreciate the detailed examples you gave to show how easily someone can obtain and misuse information that must be provided in order to use such commonplace technology as a phone or internet connection.

You proposed some practical solutions in your post (and elaborated on the legal remedies in one reply), but I am curious what you think of a campaign of women helping women to raise awareness of the problem, through conversations at work and home, through social media, public service announcements, grassroots campaigns that elicit the support of forward-thinking public or private institutions who can be made aware that protecting their constituencies are in their best interest in the long term. Are there any such campaigns at present, or can you envision that they would be helpful? You are so well informed on this topic that I hope you will continue to write about it and raise awareness for the benefit of everyone.

Thank you for such an informative post.

Regards,
Susa

Kadidia's picture

Data protection

Monica,

Your post is informative and is also a warning to each one of us. Yes, we do accept terms and conditions without reading them because we're always in such a hurry plus they are so long. Nevertheless, my understanding is that women are facing harassment because of the lack of protection on the technology platform especially in Bangladesh.
This is a serious calling about women's rights and how we can approach a more secure environment. I appreciate your comment and I would like to see you a little bit farther and think about a strategy that may help alleviate at least part of this serious issue.

Kadidia Doumbia

Julie.Desai's picture

The problem at hand

Hi Monica,

A very important & informative post. We may be at least even little aware about the risks but our younger counterparts are absolutely oblivious to the risks involved and we should educate them to be cautious about the problems faced using the online websites and other online media.

Great Post and my support is always with you.

Julie

Jenna Kz's picture

Thank You

Hello Monica,

Thank you for writing about this topic. Hearing your perspective on protecting the technological liberties and safeties of women in Bangladesh is such an important issue to share. You have a gift in writing and I learned so much from this post. I hope your recognize what an impact your post made on me, and many other World Pulse readers.

Thank you,
Jenna

courtneyo's picture

Thank You, Monica!

Thank you for sharing your story and experience and outlining it so clearly. Personal data is an ongoing issue for women worldwide, and knowing the exact experiences women in other countries (Bangladesh and beyond) is so vital to affecting a change.

Thank you, again.

Courtney

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