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Friday, 18 November 2016 06:14

Privacy czar 'concerned' about telco data leaks. Quelle surprise!


It is gratifying in the extreme to know that the Australian information and privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim is "concerned" about "allegations" that the personal information of customers of Australian telcos is being offered for sale.

Pilgrim was reacting to a story, a rather naive one, in the Fairfax press on Thursday about details of Australian customers of Vodafone, Telstra and Optus being on sale.

Lest one forgets, Pilgrim also said his office was making further inquiries to determine what further action he could take.

Really? This bureaucrat sitting comfortably a good 12 hours away from Mumbai thinks he can do anything about Indians there obtaining data from call centres — to whom, incidentally, the likes of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have outsourced work to get it done on the cheap — and selling them to the highest bidder?

In which world does this worthy exist?

It tells us a lot about the so-called ombudsmen appointed by the government, underlining the fact that they are all paid from the taxpayers' purse in order to make the brain-dead among us feel that we have a champion on our side fighting for our rights.

The outsourcing of so-called back office processes to Indian companies began in earnest in the mid- to late-1990s and ever since that time there has been a steady stream of stories about data leaks. Here goes for starters: 1, 2, 3, 4. Mind you, these are all from Fairfax's own archives! A few more Web searches and the list will become unmanageable.

Thursday's story also exposed the naivety of the Fairfax investigative reporters Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker who should have known better; if anything was indicative of their naivety, it was this giveaway sentence: "It also raises fresh concerns about risks faced in using offshore call centres, where it may be more difficult to ensure data security."

Concerns? This has been going for decades, chaps, and now you say it will raise concerns? Nobody is bothered, least of all the telcos mentioned, not as long as they get their work done at the cheapest rate possible.

The naivety of both McKenzie and Baker was further underlined by this sentence: "AI Solutions actively markets its services to prospective Australian clients via an Indian businessman who uses the name Imran Khan. It is unclear if this is a false name."

A man on the subcontinent purports to have the name of one of the most famous Pakistani cricketers of the last two decades and people are unsure whether it is a false name? C'mon guys, time to grow up and get a bit of an education in how life goes on in other parts of the world.

A small tip to McKenzie, Baker and Pilgrim: in India, corruption is a way of life. And that quote, gentle reader, comes from one of the better-known Indians, the late Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister of the country for a fair, few years.

If one seriously investigates data leaks in Indian call centres — and all the "Imran Khans" involved — it would take a dedicated team of 20 a year and more to write all the stories that are available. Take it from me, I know; I've lived and worked as a journalist in India.

So spare us the BS, gentlemen. Big companies are saving money, customers' details are being traded, and bureaucrats are "concerned".

In other words, the sky is blue, the grass is green, God's in his heaven and all right's with the world. But please, spare us the hypocrisy.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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