I just came up with the “Online personal privacy” topic a few days ago after hearing a story about privacy from a friend of mine. She complained that she kept receiving unwanted marketing phone calls and emails ever since she left a comment with detailed, accurate personal information on a Facebook group. Then, yesterday a guy found her house, called himself a staff member of a cosmetic corporation, but then stole her desk clock. She reached the peak of her anger and blamed the group for revealing her private data. She also believed that the government should have stricter regulations to secure online privacy. I sympathize with her fury, but I wonder if the situation would have been different if she had not left too much personal information on the group.
“I can see you”
“I can see you” is an article by Cascio (2009) from fastcompany.com, discussing personal transparency in the digital age. The author claims that “the lack of control over what you reveal about yourself is troubling”. I believe this is true, especially in the case of Vietnamese virtual communities these days.
According to Sharbaugh (2013), Vietnam has a quite low IDV score (Individualism score), 20 out 100, which means that Vietnamese have less concerns for privacy and do not feel worrisome when sharing information with third parties. To explain that, Sharbaugh (2013) believes that Vietnamese are still affected by Confucianism, which encourages people to appreciate Asian values such as group orientation, sharing with others, and importance of relationships and when social networks started booming in Vietnam, with the appearance of Facebook in 2009, Vietnamese join these virtual communities with the aforementioned attitudes and beliefs. It is undoubted that we can easily find personal information of someone on social networks, from their phone number to their favorite restaurant. People share things spontaneously, look for “shares” in return and believe that they just share with “friends” and all those who share like them.
Through the check in function on Facebook, we can know what this girl is doing, where she is and who are with her.
However, we should be aware that the virtual communities are not that simple. To some extent, they are even more complicated than the real world. Thanks to more and more advanced surveillance systems and sharing functions, every movement we make on the Internet are watched and spread. Sometimes this leads to consequences like those in the case of my friend. It is predictable and inevitable. Therefore, we should bear in mind that once we post something on the Internet, we must accept that this does not belong to us anymore. We cannot control it anymore. What we can do is to be careful and thoughtful before deciding to share anything on the Internet. Take responsibility for ourselves. The government or any organization cannot do it for us.
Finishing this section, I would like to change the article title of fastcompany.com a bit. “I can see you. Because you allow me to see”. Have some fun with online personal privacy with this video:
Online personal privacy in Vietnam (Part 2): The thirst for Governmental protection
Online personal privacy has been a big concern to many countries for years.
According to Herath, Rao & Upadhyaya (2012), neglecting online personal privacy protection could be a critical mistake of an authority. The authors believe that the leakage of personal information is the main cause of many sophisticated cybercrimes such as cyber-bullying, identity theft, account theft amongst others. In California, USA, the Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA) was put into practice in 2003 with a very detailed guideline about the manifestation and punishments for online personal privacy (Online Privacy Protection Act nd). This law has been updated regularly up until now.
What happened in Vietnam?
However in Vietnam, the issue of online personal privacy seems not to be taken as seriously as it should be. Sharbaugh (2013) states that in Vietnam, online personal privacy is still a new concept to the Government and that “the topic of personal privacy has been entirely absent from the national discourse.” I believe that his argument could be demonstrated by the content of the latest version of the Information Technology Safety Law, which was updated in 2006 (Văn bản chính phủ nd). We can easily recognize that Online personal privacy is mentioned as the individual’s need to ask for permission to use online information of another. But in fact it is no longer that simple! We all know that at the time this Law was applied, 2006, there were few social network sites, less Internet users, less surveillance equipment and surely less cybercrimes than nowadays.
Is the Government listening?
Many stories have been told about the consequences of personal information leakage in Vietnam, especially since the boom of Facebook among youngsters in 2009. In mid-2013, the public was troubled by the suicide of a 12-grade schoolgirl (Lê & Linh 2013). Her photos on Facebook were downloaded and collaged with the body of a sexy girl by one of her classmates. This classmate then spread these fake photos all over the school to bully the girl. After a long time of suffering from depression, she committed suicide. There are many aspects to discuss in this case. But I just want to question why this girl did not report her situation to anyone or any agency?
The answer may be that she was not aware of her rights about personal information protection or that she did not know where to report it, how to do so and who could help. She was not aware, neither are we maybe. We do not know because nobody tells us. Nobody ever shows us that our online personal information could be protected and actually there has been no official online rights protection organizations, or something of the sort in Vietnam. However, I believe that the Government is realizing the importance for stricter laws on Online personal information. A new law called Digital Information Security is considering and supposed to be applied in 2016 (Dự thảo Online nd). While waiting for the new law to be officially enacted, I will stop uploading pictures on Facebook…
Online personal privacy in Vietnam (Part 3): It’s time for websites to take action!
I believe that every single one of us has experienced the inconvenience of constantly receiving unwanted marketing phone calls, messages and emails. Or as in the case of my friend mentioned in the first part, others even get her house address. Have you ever wondered by what ways those people have gotten your personal information when you have never met each other? I think there is only one answer: You have provided your data somewhere on the Internet and now this information is revealed. There are many ways by which your personal information could be leaked through the Internet. However, in general there are 2 main situations:
The websites are hacked, and the hackers get the website’s internal information. This usually happens to the forums, social network sites that ask personal information for membership. According to ĐấtViệt (2013), Team Cymru, an Internet security research and insight organization, has just announced that Vietnam is one of the countries that have the greatest number of websites hacked.
This brings about the condition that a large amount of private information of members is out. This fact has raised a demand for much stronger security systems from the website administers. Website bkav.com.vn was hacked at noon 6.2.2012
The websites sell their members’ personal information. According to QuocThang (2012), these websites sell information to intermediary websites then such intermediary websites sell to people in need. The consumers of such information are usually travel agencies, marketing departments in organizations, and start-up businesses. QuocThang (2012) also claims that personal information selling is happening overtly and getting more sophisticated. We can easily find the advertisements about personal data selling on many websites like rao.com, quangcao.com. This situation results from the shortcoming in the Online privacy protection law as mentioned in the previous post. The Degree 83/2011 about punishment level for infringement in the Telecommunication field asserts that individuals, organizations who sell others personal information will be charged 2 million to 5 million VND (VânHằng 2012). According to VânHằng (2012), this sanction level is too slim and cannot prevent the violators from reoffending.
A quotation for personal information. According to this quotation, information of each 500 customers of
Coop Mart costs 500,000 VNĐ. 6000 members of a cosmetic forum cost 800,000 VNĐ
In conclusion, by whatever way the personal information is disclosed, the websites who take the responsibility to secure such information should be aware that it is not only a matter of who saves the information. It is about reputation, accountability and the survival of the website. If the members’ personal data keep being revealed for any reasons, the Internet users absolutely have a right to continue to stay on the website or not. Then the matter will turn into better security or death…