Addressing the mess of big data

Data collection needs to be more careful. Privacy might breach every time an outsourced agency physically collects data clicked and passed on casually to personal WhatsApp numbers. 
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

Moving from Goa to Bangalore meant interacting with various agencies to update my address. In my head, I just had to update my Aadhaar card, and the rest should be a cakewalk. Well, not really.

It all began when I uploaded the electricity bill to update my Aadhaar data. It was rejected instantly. BESCOM still carries an old address format and an even older PIN code leading to a mismatch.

My bank’s relationship manager stepped in to update my communication address using biometric authentication. It took her three attempts over three weeks. Three weeks later, two of us uploaded the same bank data to update the same address on the UIDAI portal. For one person, the update happened in 4-5 days, and for the other, we realised it’s a matter of waiting and hoping for the best. Thankfully, UIDAI on Twitter helped.

At a public sector bank, the manager was more interested in moving my account to his so that he could get the credit. I obliged, but he forgot to update the address. Again at the bank, the gentleman wanted me to commit to investments in instruments he recommended before updating. After rounds of negotiations, he re-started the update process. The story does not end here. The updated address reflected in my monthly statements for a few months but later reverted to the old one. I was shocked, as was the manager, who had no clue how this happened.

This time the manager asked me to send the Aadhaar again on his WhatsApp, as he could not locate my earlier application. Tired and unwell, I gave in and saw the address updated again in the next statement. I was uncomfortable leaving my UID details in someone’s mobile number. You never know where it can go, intentionally or unintentionally.

Next came the telecom operator. Now, with one India plans, you can skip updating. But, as a disciplined citizen, I requested it only to realise that it entails changing the circle. You need to PORT your number and get a new SIM Card. It takes a week if all goes well and involves disconnection for about four hours. The customer care person said an agent would come home, pick up a copy of the ID card, take a picture and hand over the new SIM card, which will get activated at a designated time. Fine, but who is this person collecting my private data? Is he your employee? No. Do you have his ID proof? No. What about my data privacy? Well, take it or leave it. This is how we work.

For transferring my Voter’s Id card, the NVSP portal instantly gave a reference number with a neat graphic to track the progress. Nothing happened for a few months. The Karnataka office said they could not do anything till Goa deleted my data, and they have no control over it. No amount of digitisation can make two offices of the same government department talk or work seamlessly. I wonder if easing and speeding up this process and allowing people to choose their polling booth would result in better voter turnout.

All this happened when I had all possible documents, clean records, an active voice on social media and the ability to talk to anyone handling my details. It scares me to think of going through this again in the future. However, I am more worried about big data management. So many loopholes in the processes are a data privacy nightmare.

Data collection needs to be more careful. Privacy might breach every time an outsourced agency physically collects data clicked and passed on casually to personal WhatsApp numbers. The collectors owe no responsibility either to me or the service provider. Are they even traceable? I am not sure. Is it not inviting fraud on a platter? Should the handling of personal data be unrestricted? Why the need for attested hard copies when Aadhaar can be updated online, especially when my primary data is linked to my Aadhaar? Are there guidelines for data collection or penalties for breaches? Are we waiting for a big scam to trigger it?

There is no transparency in data management despite the requirement of regular KYC. Physical applications are lost with no traces. Data reverting to previous data means some data rollback happened in the database. Who owns the responsibility for this? Most managers are clueless and blame their IT department. The internal blame game does not help customers or citizens. Imagine it happening to our financial transactions!

What’s worse, customers need help with robotic customer care in private organisations and non-working toll-free numbers in government agencies. There are no published timelines for updating records, which means no last date by which agencies are obliged to make changes. All you can do is apply and pray for it to happen within a reasonable time.

Digitalisation at the institute level has happened, but a seamless data flow between departments and institutes is missing. Else, we would not have to run pillar-to-post for updated TDS data in our tax statements at the end of every financial year. It should reflect the instant the payee deducts it. Why does the govt allow so many months of delay when all transactions are digital? Anyone’s guess.

My passport update is next in line, and I wonder what that would reveal.


Author and founder of IndiTales

(Tweets @anuradhagoyal)

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