The column of "your choices" is particularly noteworthy as to how our privacy could be protected by ourselves.
- Google provides a number of tools to restrict who can view your profile and other personal information. When you create your profile, look for the "golden key" icon, which allows you to limit viewing certain information to yourself, your friends, friends of friends, or to make the information available to all orkut members.
- You can update your profile information at any time by clicking on the "edit" button in your profile setting.
- Messages you receive from orkut can be sent to your primary email address or orkut inbox, depending on the preferences you choose in the "my settings" page.
- You can terminate your account at any time. To learn how, click here. If you terminate your account, your profile, including any messages in your inbox, will be removed from the site and deleted from orkut servers. Because of the way we maintain this service such deletion may not be immediate, and residual copies of your profile information may remain on backup media.”
Finally orkut authorities announce “Google adheres to the US Safe Harbor privacy principles. For more information about the Safe Harbor framework or our registration, see the Department of Commerce's web site.”
To be precise, any Orkut member can create a profile, socialize with other Orkut members, join various “communities” and protect his or her profile by restricting the unwanted viewers. The safety column of the Orkut again reiterates similar tips, regulations and guidelines and gives some strong notes as to how an account may be permanently deleted. This column in one single line mentions that orkut users have to be 18 years old and any profile found to be owned by children below 18 would be deleted immediately. As an orkut member you can even create communities and such communities would also be liable to be deleted if some objectionable article is found in it.
GOOD ENOUGH. But does it really protect our privacy? Let us check.
What is our legal right to protect privacy?
Under Art 21 of the Indian constitution we have a beautiful right to “life and liberty”. After many experiences by eminent jurists it was established that this essential right do extend to protect our privacy too ( Kharak Singh vs State of UP. AIR 1963 SC 1295). While this case talked about a convict who was constantly watched upon and felt his private life has become miserable, our laws also protect our privacy in some other ways. Defamation or ruining a person’s character in front of third persons either by verbal words or by written letters, pictures etc is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code. Sec 501 of the IPC prescribes severe punishments for such actions. The Indian Information Technology Act 2000 also establishes several provisions to protect our privacy online. Chapter XI declares tampering with computer source documents (sec 65), hacking with computer system (sec 66) , publication of obscene and pornographic material (sec 67)and breach of confidentiality and privacy (sec 72) as offences. Unfortunately the constitutional right of protection of privacy has not been established in any of the defamation related cases of the Information technology. But I strongly feel there is a good ground to drag this very right to crimes related to data protection.
How our privacy is affected in orkut?
In spite of so many existing legal provisions to protect our privacy in the popular social network there are thousands of crimes happening all most every day which shatter our online privacy. We can divide these crimes in three groups, (i) crimes on the individual profile owner, (ii) crimes on the individual, (iii) crimes on the community created by individual profile owner. These crimes are as follows:
- Under the first group comes hacking, morphing the snapshots which Orkut allows users to put in their album, online defamation, online pornography with the personal photographs of the Orkut users, unnecessary harassing the profile owner with request to accept the anonymous friendship and if the profile owner rejects such offer , sending obscene messages to his or her friends as a revengeful act, posting private pictures of the profile owner to one’s own album without the owner’s permission.
- Under the second group comes mocking, teasing, defaming or bullying a particular person by either individual profile owner or a group of pranksters. This kind of crime slightly differs from the first group of crime in the sense that the victim may or may not have an Orkut profile , but the perpetrator is an owner of the orkut profile.
- The third group of crimes happens to particular communities which are created by individual profile owners. Such popular crimes are hacking the community, becoming the member in a fictitious name and then posting obscene messages in the community page, attacking other innocent community members etc.
Unfortunately except one or two incidents, almost all of these incidences go unnoticed even by the profile owners who are victims as well as the Orkut authorities.
Awareness among common Orkut users
It is unfortunate that the common orkut users enjoy the network without even knowing their rights. Most of them sign in without even going through the safety policy or privacy policies. As a result members mostly women, become innocent victims. Their “private life” becomes very much public. I have a strong doubt whether the website authorities themselves check the age of the profile owners. Many under 18 children enjoy penetrating the privacy of adult Orkut members in fake names, they even go on ransacking (using Orkut) one’s good name and good will . When out of curiosity I checked with my Orkut friends about their awareness regarding net privacy, I got most shocking answers. Many of them have been victims of the crimes above mentioned. One had her cloned profile made by some one which fooled all most all her friends, some had found their pictures in other known / unknown profiles without their permission, some were shocked to see their most favorite photograph used as a pornographic object. All most all of them had received some harassing messages at one point of time. None of them were happy with Orkut privacy policies but are happy members of orkut as they got to know their old as well as new friends through this social net work. Most of them are willing to report to the authority “if any abuse happens”, but don’t know that all ready they have been abused .Except one, all most no one knows privacy in the net could also be a constitutional right.
When I checked with community owners, the answers were quite the same. All most all of them were protecting their community from all types of invaders, but were not very happy with the privacy policies. Some had seen some fake profiles in their community even after careful scrutiny and before such profile could be restricted, it had already damaged other community member’s reputation.
What do we learn from this?
There are many laws to protect us, but we become victims of circumstances due to our unawareness and negligence .It is not necessary to become a lawyer to know your rights, but it is very much essential to read the policy guidelines, rules and regulations before committing in any networks. It is an undoubted fact that a hugely popular social network like Orkut has hopelessly failed to protect its users’ privacy due to poor drafting of the policy guidelines. Neither our Information technology law is very strong to deal with brilliant criminals. But it becomes our duty to learn the follies and spread awareness among our fellow “netizens”. Until and unless the victims come up and report the abuse, their private life will allways be dragged in the limelight to make fun of them, irritate them and finally traumatize them. There are umpteen numbers of researches going on in India as well as worldwide by institutions as well as private researchers to develop the IT laws to protect one’s privacy, identity and good will. May be within a year or two India will see a very strong IT Act which will be most talked about in the world of Information technology laws. But I sincerely request all the readers, Orkut users and members of other social networks to know your right. Once people know how to protect their privacy in the net, the rate of crime affecting privacy will automatically reduce.
* Debarati Halder is an advocate and presently engaged as a research assistant in an International project on cyber bullying among school children in the Department of Criminology, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India
** The author acknowledges the active participation of her Orkut friends belonging to popular Orkut communities such as “ Banglar Bodhu” , “Dhonyi Meye”, “Addabaaj Bangali” in writing this article.