By Talha Aslam
“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product”. A phrase originated in the 1970’s in response to television advertising. The world has ushered into a new era and the means of communications has evolved altering the realities of marketing and advertising. In the digital era, the e-commerce also known as the electronic commerce or the internet commerce has innovated the buying and selling of goods or services using the internet. Also, the online transaction of data and finances with use of digital banking had opened up venues by bridging gaps between nations on one side has also led to emergence of fifth generation warfare, the information warfare.
Information warfare in its broadest sense is a struggle over the information and communications process, a struggle that began with the advent of technologies of communication. It is a battlespace where information and communication technology are implemented to manipulate information provided by a target, who trusts the information provided will remain secure and will not be used against him. Contrary to this, the information is used to make individual take decisions aligned with the interests of the one conducting information warfare. It is done to manipulate nations into discrediting their own institutions by creating a rift of mistrust. Resultantly, the people let go patriotic feelings and eventually the nationalistic vales are undermined leading to invasion by foreign values.
In 2013, an American whistleblower, signaled the world that American’s National Security Agency (NSA) is involved in gathering individual’s personal data including world leaders through numerous global surveillance programs with cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments on the pretext of national security by infringing the right to privacy of individual. Moreover, The Guardian- an American daily, reported in 2019, that Israeli spyware was allegedly used to target the two dozen Pakistani government officials including Pakistan’s senior defense and intelligence officials. These occurrences clarify that information warfare is being pursued by various developed nations to meet their ulterior motives.
In 2018, an investigation was done by New York times which disclosed Facebook is sharing access to user’s data with other tech firms, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify etc. In an explanation rendered by Facebook to US lawmakers, it was stated that it doesn’t sell your data but it does sell access to you. Facebook collects a lot of individual data – everything from email address to the strength of phone’s battery. The simplest explanation for this is that Facebook uses that data to make money. In 2017, the advertising revenue generated by Facebook was around 40 billion U.S. dollars, whereas, the 2019 statistics revealed Facebook made 69.7 billion U.S. dollars from advertising.
Last month, Facebook was sued by the U.S government and 48 states for illegally crushing competitors and demanded the company undo its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, which is in violation of America’s antitrust laws. Although, Instagram and WhatsApp both platforms thrived in the Facebook’s supervision which was bought in 2012 and 2014.
In a similar move, Facebook and Google were sued by the European Union under antitrust laws. Whereas, the Pakistani government issued a notification, strengthening the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, PTA to regulate the online content on these digital platforms. The Asia Internet Coalition in response to this move has shown regret that the Pakistan government has not consulted the stakeholders and urged authorities to reconsider the move of regulating social media content. Among the nation, it was not welcomed by many critics of the current regime and was perceived as an obstruction to individual freedom.
Following this, there were about 8.1 million users globally, who downloaded Signal app, according to data from Apptopia (research firm) whereas, WhatsApp saw a seven percent decline in its daily installs. This and the criticism by its users on social media platforms, led WhatsApp to render an explanation. In its official statement, WhatsApp denounced rumors and reiterated that user’s personal chat data will remain under end-to-end user encryption and only data which comes under business transactions, once allowed by the user himself will be shared with Facebook Inc. for marketing and advertising purposes.
In the digital era of innovation and information, it is high time for the Pakistan tech industry to step ahead and develop a platform that protects its citizens from being robbed of information. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan enshrines the right to privacy as a fundamental right under article 14. The National Information Technology Ministry should encourage policymakers to strengthen the digitization process and structure a platform which shapes up an opportunity for young entrepreneurs. Academic circles and investors should also motivate students to pursue this opportunity and make a fortune for themselves and the national economy.
Author is an academician and teaches in Pakistan’s top varsities. His area of interest is international politics and foreign affairs.