Internet disruptions along with blocking access to social media platforms have turned into “knee-jerk responses to protests or civil unrest worldwide,” says Gabriele Racaityte-Racai, communications manager at Surfshark. According to an social media censorship tracker maintained by Surfshark, a virtual private network (VPN) service provider, one in three countries across the globe have blocked social media either permanently or sporadically. The social media censorship tracker is said to cover internet practices in 185 countries across the globe from 2015 with Surfshark last updating the tracker on April 6, 2021.
India No Exception to Internet Disruptions, Social Media Shutdowns: Racai
Racai told TelecomTalk that “at least” 63 off the 185 countries have either blocked or “heavily disrupted access to social media” in the past six years period with “India being no exception.”
“Moreover, the Indian Telegraph Act of 1883 states that the government can legally spy on its citizens,” Racai told TelecomTalk in an email interview. “Unfortunately, India is among the countries that relatively often use the Internet to suppress rather than empower its citizens.”
In the past week, it has been reported that Twitter, one of the popular social media platforms complied with the Indian government request to censor over 50 tweets about the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Surfshark highlighted that the countries in Asia and Africa “block access to social media the most” as compared to Australia and Oceania with “zero recorded cases of social media restrictions.” Further, it was also said that the practice of restricting access to social media is “usually the product of anti-democratic governments seeking to suppress citizens’ freedom.”
Daniel Markusson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, citing Freedom House score on India said that the country experienced four point decline on internet freedom which “leaves room for improvement.” Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world listed India as “partly free” with a score of 51 on its internet freedom metric for 2020. In the previous year, Freedom House highlighted that India achieved a score 55 translating to a four point decline in the 12 month period. In comparison, Canada is one of the countries with the highest score on the internet freedom metric with a score of 87 in 2020 and is said to be a “free” country.
“According to Freedom House, India currently ranks as “Partly Free.” They experienced a 4 point decline in their internet freedom score,” Markusson told TelecomTalk in an email interview. “This leaves room for improvement, which we anticipate will be capitalized on soon.”
Users Can Protect Their Privacy Online in Multiple Ways: Markusson
Meanwhile, in late April, it was reported that Dominos India suffered a major data breach resulting in credit card details of over 1 million users being put up for sale on the dark web. It was said that multiple layers of personal data such as names, phone numbers, emails, address and payment details were also put on the dark web along with the credit card details. Dominos India in a statement to Gadgets360 said that its “team of experts is investigating the matter” and that the company has taken “necessary actions to contain the incident.”
While India has witnessed a dramatic increase in data breaches with multiple platforms such as MobiKwik suffering a data breach, Racai said that it's the responsibility of organizations to secure clients data.
“However, if it does happen, you should change and strengthen your online logins and passwords,” Racai said. “Overall, the best way to minimize the potential damage of the breach is to have reactive security measurements such as breach detection mechanisms to routinely check if your data hasn't been leaked on the dark web.”
Racai said that users need to make two-factor authentication an “absolute must” to protect their privacy online as it “adds a layer of security that makes any account much less susceptible to cyberattacks.”
Similarly, Markusson also said that users can protect their privacy online in multiple ways such as by using unique passwords and multi-factor authentication.
“To name a few, multi-factor authentication, unique passwords, turn off your Wi-Fi when you’re not using it, enable firewalls, and much more,” Markusson said. “But using a VPN, which hides your IP address and creates a virtual tunnel for your data to travel across the web safely, is one of the best options for privacy protection.”