No Privacy Infringement in Spamming but…

Privacy Infringement in Spamming

Spamming is repeated messaging to the same addressee or automated messaging of the same message to multiple addressees. It is separate and distinct from privacy infringement. There is no privacy infringement in spamming but…

Spamming is differentiated from advertising by the legitimacy of the message. Generally, the messages from big brands are not considered spamming, especially if the platform where the message appears has been compensated for. For example, the advertisements popping up on websites are generally not considered spams as the website owner has been paid for, and the fact that you visit the website without any force gives legitimate expectation to the website owner to run ads for you on his website. Similarly, if you subscribe to a service by furnishing your personal details, it gives legitimate expectation to the owner of the service to offer or advertise ancillary services.

However, the legitimate expectation is not limited to the above two examples. A politician starts sending you SMSs just because you are member of his constituency, and he legitimately expects that you need info about him to vote in elections. A TV channel legitimately expects that it should know your preferences so that it may design its shows as per your needs, so it sends you survey forms. A grocery owner legitimately expects to duly sell you grocery, so he often calls you up inquiring about your inventories and informing about various discounts. And a policeman legitimately expects to provide you safety, so he shadows your movements on public streets. Well…none of the above is illegal because everything has been collected legitimately.

However, if an ordinary gym instructor starts sending you unsolicited messages informing about his six packs, it is spamming. If a busybody starts sending you SMSs informing about his latest PILs, it is spamming. If an aspiring author starts emailing you the copy of the drafts he sent to the publisher, it is spamming. If a cyber cafe owner starts sending you links to the latest porn, it is spamming. If a thief starts shadowing you, so that he can rob you, it is spamming.

Now let us chage the context a bit. If a Cine Superstar informs you about his six packs on no less than a national TV channel, it is not spamming. If a busybody fights an election and becomes an MP, his PILs become a matter of national importance. If a celebrity author emails you the drafts not directly but through the publisher to whose mailing list you subscribe, it is not spamming. If a cyber cafe owner sends you links not to the latest porn but to the morning sermons from a popular Godman with the seal of approval from the “God” himself, I wonder how many would dare call it spamming. And a thief can anyways legitimately claim himself to be a policeman, so no need to elaborate.

From the above, it becomes clear that the spectrum of spamming is muddled. The same thing which was spamming a while ago becomes legitimate by the change of status of the spammer. However, the bottom line remains that all advertisements are irritating unless you are a kid. The grown up kids start calling some of them spams when they learn the others of the same height are doing similarly. But they do understand it’s not cool to call it a spam when a news anchor asks the question: Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali? Even the kids immediately start jumping with joy on seeing their favourite Bahubali on the screen and watch all news bulletins with keen interest right into the late hours when the news anchor starts wearing loud lipstick.

Of course, spamming is irritating. It may arise out of some feigned legitimate expectation of the advertiser but betrays the expectation of the receiver, who just wants to focus on the issue at hand. There is nothing more irritating than magical popping up of an app download page in the middle of an article. But what really can you do about it? I have realised however much you block them, the advertisers will always find some legitimate way to influence your opinion, if nothing else than through Influence Marketing — Beat that! My more important consideration, therefore, is the risk it poses to my privacy. Do I lose any private information by becoming the subject of spamming? I don’t think I do unless the spammers can read my mind — which they might, soon, very soon. Per se, there is no privacy infringement in spamming but when combined with mind reading, it can exponentially multiply the effects of infringement.

I would like to concentrate my attention on the real problem, which is infringement of privacy through mind reading. It shouldn’t bother me much if a news anchor asks an irrelevant question. If it becomes too irritating, I always have the choice of switching on the same old radio — though the lipstick would certainly be missed. But, of course, it becomes a different game if the news anchor is given the power to observe my movements through the selfie camera in my smartphone. Yes, it is possible to remotely click photographs of a user through the smartphone’s front camera, and I thank Snowden for informing the world about it. However, Snowden has not yet informed about the possibility of a news anchor’s power to read the viewer’s mind through Brain Decoder.

Imagine this. A spammer feeds unsolicited information in your brain and receives your reactions on a Brain Decoder. Now combine this with the data analysis techniques that Amazons and Googles of this world possess. Indeed, they can take complete control over your life: Amazon can retrieve a story from an author’s mind by showing him pictures in his dream, and Google can then display the results generated from the minds of the best selling authors on its paid search engine dedicated to exclusive customers; let’s call it “Dream Books”. But, of course, the best sellers would then only profit the Amazons and the Googles, and the authors would be imprisoned for life in the service of dreams the people want to read on Google’s “Dream Books”.

Thankfully, till now this is not happening, but Amazon is indeed analysing mouse hover movements to predict purchases, and Google is indeed trying to predict the question a searcher may ask, by data mining multiple sources inter alia on searcher’s food habits, dating pattern, exercising schedule, and, of course, search history. Till now they don’t have access to the sophisticated technology that militaries of the world posses, but the time is witness that sooner or later the sophisticated technologies pass onto the business for commercial exploitation allowing the machines and the beasts controlling the machines to make dog’s rights more important than human rights. So, start shouting now, if nothing else than Bhaw…Bhaw…(Even that will help)!

About the Author

Ankur Mutreja
Ankur Mutreja is an advocate-cum-writer, and his blogs are amongst his modes of expression. He has also authored six books: "Kerala Hugged"; "Light: Philosophy"; "Flare: Opinions"; "Sparks: Satire and Reviews"; "Writings @ Ankur Mutreja"; and "Nine Poems"; which can be downloaded free from the links on the top menu.

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