It is About Sharing

Knowledge is for sharing. Do not keep your knowledge to yourself alone. Let it grows. The more you share, the more you learn and in the end you become a better person.

Surah Yaasin Amazing Recitation

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Al-Fatihah

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When Private Information Goes Public

I read this article in Today online, a Singapore newspaper and find it worth to share with all.
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SHENZHEN native Feng Shixin is eight months pregnant. She was recently swamped each week with numerous text messages and telephone calls from people wanting to sell her baby powder, diapers and even a kindergarten enrolment for her as-yet-unborn child. “Some even asked if I needed a domestic helper during my confinement period and if I wanted to join a slimming centre,” Ms Feng recounted. She was not the only one whose personal information had been stolen and passed on to advertisers.
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Some 40,000 other women had also fallen victim to a scandal that had set the bustling southern Chinese city abuzz. Last month, local media reported that information of pregnant women from 70 public hospitals, including their names, addresses, telephone numbers, examination dates and expected delivery dates were sold to advertisers. The information was reportedly sold for 12,000 yuan (S$2,352); in some cases even as high as 120,000 yuan ($23,529).
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The Shenzhen health authorities had initially denied involvement, blaming the leaks on hackers. But they later admitted responsibility and pledged to put in place a security system that would ensure patient confidentiality. As Chinese advertisers become increasingly geared toward targeted advertising, the leakage of personal information has become a social scourge.
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Besides new homeowners, car owners have not been spared either. As Beijing car owner Zhang Kai lamented: “Where did the insurance companies get my mobile phone number from? And how did they know that my policy was up for renewal?” Mr Zhang said that the culprit could either be the car seller, car workshop or even the local vehicle administration bureau. When Mr Zhang threatened to sue one of the car insurers who rang up, the insurer panicked and revealed that the information was bought from “information companies”, including other data such as the address of the car owner, licence plate, colour, make, and even the engine serial number of the car.
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Indeed, a quick Internet search on popular Chinese search engine Baidu using the Chinese term for “sale of car owners’ information” generated over 227,000 hits. Each list can be bought for between 500 yuan and 2,500 yuan, One seller even boasted that he obtained his information from the local vehicle administration bureau. While most cases involving the use of personal data mainly revolved around enthusiastic sellers looking for buyers, some cases were downright criminal.
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For instance, there were reports of luxury car owners who had received phone calls from callers who threatened harm unless they deposited large sums of money in temporary bank accounts. Some car owners fell for the trick as the callers not only knew their names and addresses, but also where they worked and even details of their family members. Other cases involved victims who received phone calls from their “mobile phone companies” who not only knew their addresses, but also birth dates and occupations. The victims were then instructed to turn off their mobile phones for a few hours to “assist in investigations”. When the phones were turned off, families of the victims would be told that their family members were involved in an accident and that money was urgently needed for treatment and hospitalisation. Some family members fell for the ruse, especially when they could not locate their “injured” family member.
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Right now, China does not have laws ensuring personal data privacy. Currently, those who believe that their privacy had been violated can file lawsuits only if the violations resulted in any damage to their reputation. Legal experts, such as Liaoning University legal scholar Prof Shi Ying have called on China to introduce legislation on data protection. As Prof Shi pointed out: “When personal information has been divulged, who can the public turn to? And what kind of responsibility should be borne by affected departments? There are too many legal loopholes right now. Legislation simply cannot be delayed.” Clearly, legislation may not be enough, given the often unseen and shady forces at work. However, given rising public discontent with what many perceive as a nuisance and an intrusion into their private lives, legislation is at least a first step in the right direction.

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That was what happened in China. What about us in Malaysia? I believe that most of us, if not all, have received at least one phone call from a stranger wanted to sell their products be it time sharing, vacation package, insurance products, credit cards subscription, colleges education, fitness club/gym and many others. Those I have mentioned are the type of phone calls that I received from my mobile number and I believe that there are a lot more type of phone calls people out there have received.
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More often than not, these types of calls that we received annoy us. The caller, knowing very well that we do not know anything about them, may result in harassing us. At one time, I received a call from someone invited me to attend briefing for time sharing. The caller had in fact asked me personal questions such as my salary, my household income, and my dependants and even asked me to fax my salary slip. When I refused to divulge any of the information requested, the caller got annoyed with me and started to raise his voice. Excuse me! I should be the one who get annoyed and not him!!! Sometimes, I just say I am not interested.
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The question is where did they get our telephone numbers? If anyone of you thinks that they just made random calls by just pressing any number, think about this – when they call you, they greet you with your name. Don’t you find it weird that they know your name, if at all they made random calls?
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I believe that there are many irresponsible parties who might sell our personal information for their own monetary gain. A gain for them is a pain for us. We need to remember that our personal information is being kept by many parties, which is supposedly to be confidential. For example, the banks, the insurance company, car dealers, developers, government agencies, hospitals and clinics and many others, even our own company, they have our personal information. Though they should keep it confidential, there may be one or two of their employees who are not honest and doing “port time” job by selling our personal information. I believe that this thing happened. How much is the information worth, I have no idea but if you look at the price range in China, which is ranging from 12,000 yuan (RM5,409) to 120,000 yuan (RM54,116), I tell you what, it is damn a good business.
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Whenever you receive calls like this, you can try asking them where did they get your telephone number but you will never get it. They will keep their source confidential. Funny right? They keep their source confidential but make our confidential information unconfidential.
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I do not know whether the government is doing something about protecting personal confidential information, but if they don’t, I strongly urge the government to do something about it. There need to be a law that can force the party who has our confidential information to divulge their source. If nothing is done, there may be a lot more worst things can happen, which was highlighted in the article above like crime, etc, etc.
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So, while pending the government to do something about it, my advise to you guys is not to entertain such a call. Suffice for you to say "I am not interested". Never ever say "sorry, I am not interested" because there is no reason for you to say sorry. They should be the one who say sorry to you for stealing your personal information. Do not ever try to prolong the conversation wanting to know what they have to offer, as more often than not, they are good in talking and marketing. The longer you are on the line with them, the higher your chances to fall into their trap. So, becareful.

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