One third of South Africans willing to disclose their social information for government monitoring

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Thirty-eight percent (38%) of South African consumers say they are happy for the government to monitor social media activity to keep its citizens safe, according to a report by Kaspersky called Social credits and security: Embracing the world of ratings, that reveals people’s perception of social ratings and if they are prepared to be a part of such a system.

At the same time, 67% of local respondents were ready to reveal their private data in exchange for a unique offer in an online shop. However, for many consumers, it still remains unclear how these automated systems of data-driven services work. 55% of all the users participating in the poll admitted they still can’t figure out the mechanisms of their work.

The growing popularity of social media networks and online services has led to a growth in social scoring systems – automated algorithms based on users’ behaviour and influence on the Internet. Initially, such consumer assessment algorithms were integrated by financial institutions, as well as by e-commerce providers.

Today, such systems are applied in many other spheres and sectors. For example, governments and organisations can assess which people are eligible for a wide range of real-world services. Moreover, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world saw the implementation of automated systems to control people’s movements, their ability to buy goods, and their access to social services. But are people actually ready for this?

According to Kaspersky’s report, 19% of local respondents who participated in the survey from around the world, have heard of a social credit system. At the same time, despite these systems being put in place and becoming more well-known, there is some ambiguity over how they operate and how effectively they are being implemented.

Thus, 55% of local consumers have experienced issues in understanding how a social credit system works. People can find it impossible to discover their score, how they are being calculated and how they can be corrected if there are inaccuracies. But furthermore, as these systems are based on automated machine learning algorithms, it is difficult to know what choices they make and whether it’s possible to rely on them – especially in terms of security.

According to an  overview of security of social scoring systems, such schemes can be particularly vulnerable to artificial manipulation, like being able to lower someone’s score for various purposes. Additionally, like any other computer system, they are susceptible to different types of attacks, either on the technical and programming implementation or system mechanics. The latter could lead to the emergence of a new type of black market where users’ scores can be converted into real money and vice versa.

However, this does not prevent organisations from further collecting data, especially when people are willing to let it happen. Kaspersky’s report reveals that over 40% of respondents globally would share sensitive private data to secure better rates and discounts, and to receive special services. Moreover, consumers are much more prepared to share their social media profiles for other aspects of their daily lives.

“Governments and organisations are digitising quickly, helping them to benefit from technology and consumer data in new ways. On the one hand, technology and data improves their services for people in order to make our lives easier. On the other, it’s not clear how much access to personal information and people’s lives they can request, and most significantly, how they will handle it.

This is especially important during situations of global self-isolation, when people have no other option but to rely on online services. And by needing to take control of public life today, people may lose control over their own lives tomorrow,”comments Marco Preuss, Director of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team in Europe.

While the current digital landscape may make it seem like sharing personal information online is inevitable, protecting privacy, both online and offline, is still possible.