July 22, 2018

When a stranger listens…

by admin123 in Data

I’m in America for a short work stint. My accommodation is at a lovely American couple’s house.

One day, the lady had requested for my help with clearing the closet in the computer room She had thought that I, as young adult, would have some knowledge about the equipment used for the computers and help her arrange the items. In the closet, as you can see, were some equipment like adapters, cables and telephone lines.

I had agreed to help her out. I put aside my laptop on the corner of the table and started sorting out the items. Throughout the process, there were questions regarding what these items were and what they were for. We then labelled the boxes and put the respective items in them so that it would be easier for the lady to find the items whenever she needed them. The lady had also asked for my help to replace the batteries in the fire alarm at home.

The next day, I had decided to do some online shopping at Lazada. What I had seen next on the Lazada homepage had surprised me.


I was in for a shock. On Lazada’s suggested section, “Just for You”, were items that were closely associated with the items that we had talk through about while we were packing.

For example, one of the suggestions was a Logitech Bluetooth Audio Adapter Speaker which coincides with the speakers (packed in the white box). The lady and I had also discussed about some items that she thought were worth giving to me like some computer game CDs and a headphone because she and her husband were not using them anymore. Coincidentally, Lazada suggests me a Kingston HypeX Cloud III Pro Gaming Headset.

Let’s take a look at the items in the closet that we had arranged and compare them with the items in Lazada’s suggested list.

A – Speakers
B – CD-Roms
C – HDMI Cables
D – Car accessories
E – Headset

If you had noticed, Lazada had also suggested a Yale E-SD2 smoke detector (demonstrated with a red circle) which coincides with the moment the lady had asked me to help with replacing the batteries in the fire alarm.

One could argue that it is a matter of coincidence that these items appeared on the suggested section or that I could have searched for these items on the Internet. For the latter, I did not search for these items on the Internet, because these items discussed were simple accessories and not those that require instruction manuals.

Coincidence? I doubt so. There are reports going around suggesting that there are certain features that have been used to spy on the users. For example, ChannelNews Asia had pointed out that some sensors, like the Global Positioning System, could be exploited by developers to reveal sensitive personal details. ChannelNews Asia further revealed that a flashlight app was secretly amassing its users’ locational data, which was sold to advertisers in a massive privacy breach.

You can watch more about it here.

Additionally, many people have reported such cases on social media with some of those below:


There is a cause for concern, if it is discovered that companies are making use of data that have been collected via unethical or illegal means. If such data has been subsequently made available to these organisations without our knowledge and permission, then who knows, our conversations and actions could have been very closely monitored by these organisations.

The circumstances can be controversial. After all, who likes it when a stranger whom you don’t know knows a lot or has lots of information about you, especially the details that are meant to be kept in private? We don’t even know whether such data had been used as tools to manipulate us, be it for good or for evil intentions.

Our data being placed at the hands of the people who could use them to manipulate us may be a scary thought. But what about rouge machines? The idea of our data that has been collected

I remember watching a movie (Eagle Eye) that described how, one day, a supercomputer had gone astray because of its programming that was designed to prevent further bloodshed. Ironically enough, the artificial intelligence within the supercomputer had calculated that by eliminating the present staff of the United States government, it would end the missions and wars in Afghanistan (we all know how the conspiracies and the American storylines Hollywood loves to adopt). Subsequently, there would be less bloodshed involved.

However, upon discovering the staff’s mission to end the program in the supercomputer, the supercomputer defended itself by eliminating those who wanted to deactivate the supercomputer. This was accomplished by making use of every technology available like microphones and cameras, where they could capture the audio or lip-read/analyse the staff’s behaviour to understand their plans to end the supercomputer’s program. You can see it in the scenes below:

My whole point here is that while the advances in technology have certainly given us a range of functionality that we can benefit from (e.g. phone calls and video calls), we also have to be aware that such tools are capable of being used by people, organisations and machines – especially Artificial Intelligence – to monitor us without our knowledge or permission. Subsequently, such data could be used as tools by the people to influence our actions, be it for good or for criminal intentions. Similarly, like what the movie suggests, the data could also be used to feed machines and eventually, humankind will be at the mercy of the machines (Remember Terminator?). If that is the case, we all need to hope that the machines do not turn against mankind and that we have dependable safeguards against such measures.

Fortunately, there are some platforms that are built to minimize privacy violation. Openbook. is now touted as a Facebook alternative. It aims to be better than Facebook – that is to be a social network that respect the privacy of its users. The designers promise that the platform will have “zero privacy leakage” and that both Openbook and any third-party integrations will be clear on what data they’re taking and why.

Meanwhile, BASIS ID is building a trusted data sharing ecosystem where access management (for the end users to control and share valuable data with other vendors) and legal compliance (complying with different cross-border regulations and information privacy policies) are crucial to our team and operations. Furthermore, BASIS ID also recognizes in this digital era – where there is information chaos – the need for verification of identities as well as a simple process where companies can legally and safely analyse, control and convey information to the partners.

As we become more digitally advanced and subsequently, more information is accessible and available, we have to recognize the need for sensitive data to be controlled. Otherwise, we end up feeding criminals and machines too much information about ourselves to the extent that they can start using these data as tools to manipulate us.

Right here at BASIS ID, it’s simple. We are worried that criminals and organisations are using our own data to fulfil their evil intentions. Similarly, we are paranoid that one day, we will see a machine uprising like how the Terminator trilogy perfectly portrays the chaos caused by machines against the humans. For that reason, we follow one principle: “Personal data is a personal value.”.

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