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March 15, 2019

Can smart products be trusted?


March 15, 2019

Islamabad : Even though all telecom service providers have clauses to access and share a consumer’s personal information, a whopping 83% of university students say they have not allowed the telecom service providers to access their personal information, informs a survey conducted by TheNetwork for Consumer Protection to commemorate World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD).

The survey contacted 500 students of different universities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi regarding their concerns related to the use of smartphones (mobile phones, televisions, wearable devices, etc.). Of the 150 million mobile phones users in Pakistan, 77 % of smartphone users are between 21 to 30 years old. Eighty-four percent of the students say they don’t think that by signing a contract with telecom service providers, they are also allowing third-party sharing of information.

The survey reflects the concerns of Pakistani users of smart products with regard to lack of security, privacy and meaningful choice over how they use them, as well as a lack of clarity about who is responsible when things go wrong. By 2025, 72% of the internet users will be accessing the internet exclusively via mobile; around half of these new users will come from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

A 2018 global consumer study by Consumer International (CI), of which TheNetwork is a member, revealed that 52% of users are more concerned about their online privacy compared to one year ago. Forty-three percent of the respondents in a different survey said they wanted to know more about the data collected about them via their connected devices and 47% worried about identity theft.

A significant data privacy risk arises from devices being able to communicate with each other and to transfer data autonomously to third parties, thereby revealing accurate knowledge of an individual and resulting in increased user-traceability and profiling.

Nadeem Iqbal, the CEO of TheNetwork believes high-profile privacy and data breaches have heightened consumers’ lack of trust in smart products. He was reminded of the 2016 incident when nearly 65,000 smart devices were infected in 24 hours, gaining access through insecure printers, home Wi-Fi routers and baby monitors.

Attacks like this are dangerous because they could involve stealing bank details, controlling webcams and microphones, and taking control of any smart device in the house, thereby underlining the need to think how security and privacy can be built into the development process. Last year, the Ministry of Interior informed the Senate that during the first ten months of 2018, as many as 1,244 complaints were received regarding unauthorized transactions made through ATMs and Internet Banking Fund Transfers.

According to TheNetwork survey, 88% of the respondents said that they use smart devices other than smartphones including tablets, Smart TVs, Laptops, Smartwatches and other wearable intelligent products. Only 26% of the respondents did not receive timely security updates from their smartphone manufacturer; 87% of the respondents said that their parents are funding their data packages; and 79% said they use 1 GB or more internet weekly.

The purpose of their smartphone usage was dominated by education (38%), followed by socialization (34%). Eighty-six percent of the respondents were keen internet users who know when their internet connection gets slow, and 70% have issues with their services due to network coverage problems, once or more than once a week.

Sixty-five percent of the users face network coverage problems during the 5 a.m.-10 a.m. time slot. More than 40% of respondents ranked mobile phones services expensive.

There are SMART (Search, Make, Adjust, Regularly, Turn Off) tips for consumers that they should search for potential security and privacy issues before buying.

TheNetwork has also sent a letter to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the regulator, with recommendations to ensure that consumers have access to affordable, high-quality, high-speed internet connection; to ensure that consumers’ connected products are sold with basic security as standard and updates be provided for a reasonable period after the sale so that hackers cannot access data or alter the functionality of the product; and to protect consumers’ privacy and data protection rights.

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