What's the Indian definition of privacy?

Two days back, I was having dinner at an aunt's place. She is a leading doctor.

Two days back, I was having dinner at an aunt's place. She is a leading doctor. We were discussing my school friend, who happens to be her patient.

My aunt was about to tell me something pertaining to my friend's private life when her son, who is studying medicine in the U.K., intervened. "Don't you have any regard for client confidentiality? If this was the U.K., you could get sued," he rebuked. I looked at my aunt; we both smiled and promptly ended our conversation.

The fact is, Indians love to discuss personal lives, whether it's ours or someone else's. So at office canteens, you'll find men and women discussing diverse personal issues, ranging from their spouse's birthday party, to their domestic squabbles, their parents and in-laws, neighbors, children, children's friends, their school...blah blah.

But, my cousin is right. In the U.K., and in many other developed economies, colleagues rarely get down to discussing personal lives.

While I really wouldn't like to get into the merits and demerits of this culture, the lack of awareness on privacy-related issues does raise concerns over data security. This transcends itself at a systemic level. Since there are no privacy laws here (the Data Protection Bill 2006 definitely won't get approved anytime soon), even companies and clients go unscathed when they sell personal information to telemarketers and others. Service providers can easily pass the buck onto their employees. And employees know they won't get caught.

This callous attitude toward privacy can definitely prove costly. For instance, most credit card companies and banks here ask customers for their mailing address, mother's maiden name, birthday, and so on, to verify their identity before they give out critical information. How difficult is it to get that in India?

Today, you find so much personal information on social networking sites. Almost everyone gives out their birthdays, including the year of birth, status of their personal relationships (the whole cyberworld know when break-ups happen; a news feed is up on Facebook the very next hour), job details, address, phone numbers, interests, and so on.

Privacy has little meaning here in India. If there was a field for "funds in your bank" or your "net worth" in a form, I am sure there will be many who will gladly provide the information.

As Internet penetration increases and the medium touches more lives, Indians--much as some other communities--will have to take a closer look at issues pertaining to privacy. We will have to be more "privacy compliant"--both at an the individual level, as well as at a systemic level.


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