Why do Malaysians give away their data like candy?

NOVEMBER 22 ― Over tea with a certain “fruity” tech company, the conversation turned to personal data security.

The company I was speaking to was suddenly getting questions from local journalists about what they were doing with the information their customers gave them. Were their phones safe? Was that information being stored on some remote server somewhere for who knows what purpose?

This isn’t a tech story, though. The real story is that it isn’t just the journalists who should be asking what other people are doing with their data.

Malaysians give out their personal information way too freely and it’s also disturbing how frequently companies harvest IC numbers.

Malaysians don’t seem to appreciate just how valuable their IC numbers are. Just by cross-referencing your IC number to various databases, people can know your full name, address, phone number, credit records and even voting details.

Take, for instance, the national voters’ registration website. All you need is someone’s IC and you’ll know their current address. Isn’t that actually scary? Let’s not also forget that the website is poorly secured with no encryption happening on data being entered into the website.

Malaysians take it far too much for granted. In this age where information is power, why are we ceding that power so easily?

There needs to be laws on who gets access to our personal data and who is allowed to keep them, with no one allowed to harvest them without proper security measures in place.

Malaysian entities farm ICs shamelessly. From your local bubble tea seller to your favourite restaurant, there always seems to be a spot to fill in your IC number.

Sometimes all it takes to get a Malaysian’s IC is to offer freebies. Want free ice cream? Here, fill in this form with your name and IC.

The thing is, your IC isn’t actually cheap. Do you hear of Americans handing over their social security numbers for the promise of free ice cream? No. But we have absolutely no qualms about handing over our ICs for surveys, giveaways and random online accounts.

We need to start asking corporations who keep all our information what they’re doing to protect it. What’s particularly disturbing to me is that the major telcos have kept silent on the allegations of their databases being compromised, in contrast to Jobstreet which to its credit has been fairly transparent about its security breach.

Your data matters. So don’t give it up too easily. Free ice cream isn’t worth it.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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