Home/ News / India/  Seeing ads based on your last conversation? Survey provides insights. Details here

A recent survey conducted by LocalCircles have confirmed that 1 in 2 citizens acknowledge seeing ads based on their private voice conversations, microphone and contact list access to certain apps is leading to privacy breaches.

In the absence of a personal data protection regime, citizens are left vulnerable to data breach. 

At a time when data privacy has been a matter of contention between the Indian government and browser engine companies, these surveys only add to government's stand of restricting consumer data.

The survey also revealed that majority of those surveyed had given microphone access of their mobile phone to audio /video calls, social media and audio recording apps

84% smartphones users surveyed in India have given their contact list access to Whatsapp, 51% have to Facebook or Instagram or both, 41% have given access to apps like Truecaller, the survey found. 

While technology has made our lives easier, it also poses a great risk as individuals expose their personal data to 3rd parties. This enables cybercriminals or hackers who try numerous ways—phishing, malicious malware software, malicious mobile apps, smishing, insecure networks, etc—to get hold of users’ data, which is then put to misuse. 

There have been growing instances of many Indian users reporting that certain mobile apps are now listening to their phone conversations as they are presented with relevant ads thereafter.

There are many apps that ask users’ permission to access their microphone; however, in many cases, users are not made aware for what reason their phone microphone is being used and where this data is being shared, other than the service they require. 

These apps and sites only take secondary consent and do not make users aware of where or how this information will be used. The key for sites and apps that are using verbal conversations of users is to comply and ensure the usage is clearly defined in the terms and conditions of their app and the key for the Government is to ensure that if there is a breach reported or suo moto, take penal action against the violators.

There are several apps—for instance, gaming apps require users’ permission to access their microphone—and a few of them go to the extent of recording a user’s voice thereby violating the privacy rights of the user. 

Some users have also alleged that a caller identification app popularly used, Truecaller, reveals personally identifiable information, including the name registered with a mobile number and sometimes occupation, email address and even employer’s name on the app without the user providing consent to share that information. The information is sourced from a Truecaller user who has shared their contact list in order to use the app and the individual happens to be in that list. In the absence of a data protection law in India, Truecaller continues to use this practice.

LocalCircles conducted a survey, which received more than 38,000 responses from citizens residing in 307 districts of India. 

The survey understood the magnitude of the issue of voice conversations leading to targeted ads and also attempted to understand the aggregate percentage of users who have given their smartphone’s microphone access to different apps.

Governments from around the world are cracking down on companies that misuse people’s data. 

The Parliament of India is yet to approve the “Personal Data Protection Bill 2019" and the Joint Parliamentary Committee has been meeting with different stakeholders since 2018. 

The Bill aims to provide legislative and statutory protection to users’ or citizens’ personal information and recognises protecting the data of individuals as their rights. This bill once approved will provide the due powers to a newly created Central Data Protection Authority to act against violators if the personal data breach is established.

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Updated: 25 May 2022, 09:59 PM IST
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